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Monday, March 31, 2014

Kees, Margriet and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Patterned walkways of little pebbles at Topkapi Palace
 We set our alarm for a 7 AM airport pick up. But when we got to the hotel lobby, it was only 6 AM. I still can’t fully explain it, but apparently several countries changed to daylight saving time last Sunday. Except Turkey. Apparently the government decreed that the change in Turkey would happen on Monday, not on Sunday. So it was confusing. When we searched for ‘current time in Istanbul’ the internet said it was 7 while the clocks said it was 6 AM. All we could do was wait for the shuttle and hope that the airline knew what time it was.

The driver drove like a bat from hell. He actually did 110 KM in a 30 KM zone... By far the craziest drive we had this month.
It was going to to a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

We’ve not often seen an airport that was slower than Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. The passport line alone was over an hour of standing and shuffling.

The 'cook' flight attendant
The flight was delayed for an hour. They said it had something to do with loading luggage. Not ours, as it turned out.
It was to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

It got worse when a Dutch guy across the isle from us boarded and started bossing people around, shouting and pushing. He swore and became quite violent. We expected the flight attendants to call in the police but that never happened. All we could do was hope he calmed down, once we were in flight.

But a second guy drank enough to turn violent, very loud and verbal. This time the swearing and yelling was in Turkish. We have never quite experienced anything like it. At one point, during landing, he took his seat belt off and nearly attacked the flight attendants. Still no police was called. 


When we finally made it into Schiphol Airport, shaken and tired, we discovered that our luggage had not accompanied us to the Netherlands. Even after a 2 hour wait - no backpacks. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

We filled in paperwork and left. At least I had the presence of mind to ask for a toiletry kit, which includes a clean t-shirt and socks. But all we can do is hope our clothes and other things show up tomorrow. A beer and croquettes helped. 
And, as Alexander knows, some days are just like that. Even in Istanbul.*


* referenced to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. 
A delicacy you can buy on the street.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bizarre Bazaars

Sultanahmet or old Istanbul is a medieval city centre, a mixture of Asia and Europe. And it is full of shops. The best place for shopping: the Grand Bazaar which is more than than just little shops. The enormous, ancient bazaar is all indoors - covered by arched ceilings. Its little alley ways crisscross into a labyrinth where you can get lost for hours. Vendors sip tea from tiny glasses in their doorways. Their displays include sparkling silver, hand painted china, woven rugs, cheap t-shirts, dangling blue eyes made of glass that are supposed to bring good luck. There are water pipes for sale and for rent. You can eat fresh bread or drink fruit juice, Turkish coffee or Turkish delight. The market's stone floors have been worn smooth over the ages, stone steps even hollow out by the millions of feet that have shuffled here.

The vendors drink tea all day.
Across town, past the many mosques, minarets and domed roofs of palaces, is the Spice Market. In this similar labyrinth of alleys, all covered, you can find baskets and mountains of cinnamon, curry, peppers of all color, dried rosebuds and sage. There are many different kinds of tea, cumin and rosemary. You can buy, and smell, dried apricots, dried octopus and
dates. After a while: sensory overload. Add to this the fact that the vendors yell and praise their wares. They invited you to come in, try this, buy that! And you have to barter. It's exhausting... 
We liked the colored mosaic, glass lamps you can buy here.

We strolled back to our hotel along the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. A long walk along ancient city walls, ferry terminals and one of the busiest waterways in the world. We watched little tug boats plowing alongside huge freighters.

Formerly known as Byzantium, then as Constantinople, and now as Istanbul, the city lies half in Asia and half in Europe. And it shows. With its roasted chestnut stalls and coffeeshops, Istanbul sometimes feels like Paris. Its narrow streets with patios and trams feel like Amsterdam. While its forest of minarets, shoarma stands and water pipes give it a distinct Middle Eastern feel. Women wear burkas or tight pants, hiking boots or high heels. You can buy roasted corn or a Starbucks. Istanbul is a meeting place of east and west.

I'm sure you can spend an infinite amount of time in this city, but to us three days were good. We walked all over the cold city, got a good sense of it and visited its icons: the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the bazaars. We walked and walked and walked, but also lounged on patios. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bathing in History

Gourds are used as lovely, colorful lights on patios.
Today I decided to be brave and experience something unique.
Did you ever laid naked on a slab of marble, covered by 4 inches of foam and then they bring out the sandpaper to work on your body?
Today I took a Turkish Bath!
Pottery tea pot displays.

They advertised everywhere and, since I love Asian massages, I decided to give it a try. The bath people even offer a free ride from and back to your hotel. When the van picked me up, there were already two British ladies on board. I figured correctly that we would get to know each other intimately. The first half hour was spend stuck in traffic in the narrow streets of Sultanahmet, or old Istanbul. Fruit carts, delivery van and buses were stuck in a solid knot while drivers snoozed, honked or swore in Turkish.

The bath house, or hamam, built in 1475, was shaped like a mosque with many domes. The marble entry hall had two storey-high wooden change room structures for men. The women's bath was off through another hallway under another marble dome with similar change rooms. The two English ladies and I were ushered into a very small room and told to strip naked. We were each handed a cotton strip of fabric, which I hoped to be the size of a table cloth. It actually was the size of a small table runner.
We tried to pull and tug but it stayed the size of a small table runner.

Roasted chestnuts
We were then led into a sauna. A small, very hot sauna with cedar benches and a glowing fire. At first I didn't think I could breathe. But once I relaxed it was fine. I sat until sweat poured freely from my spontaneously opening pores.

'My' masseuse summonded me. I tried to look dignified, but all sweaty and wrapped in a handkerchief, this was hard to do. She instantly unwrapped me, spread my cloth like a place mat on a huge marble slab in the center of the room, and ordered me to lay down on it, much like a turkey on a dinner table.

She proceeded to pour warm water over me, before bringing out the heavy artillery in the shape of a sandpaper glove. It wasn't as bad as I had feared and actually felt quite invigorating.
Birdsnests made from pastry filled with nuts.

More warm water was followed by about 6 inches of foam, spread all over me. Soap crawled into my ears and mouth as I had a massage that was not as good as an Asian massage, but not bad. I flopped around on the marble slab like a slippery bar of soap, trying hard not to slide off and onto the floor. Then I was ordered through an arched doorway, up the steps and into another arched dome with a small pool.

"Swim, lady, swim!" my masseuse ordered. I flopped into the water like a slippery trout.
Cold! It was cold water. But once I decided to endure a Turkish bath, I think I resigned myself to accept my fate lock, stock and barrel - without complaining. So I swam.
After this I was invited back into the sweat sauna, or to take a nap on the slab of marble. I decided that clothes and tea sounded like the most attractive next step.

I'll have 2 warm breads!
On the way back to the hotel, and once again stuck in traffic, cars honked, tourists shopped for leather shoes and the driver mumbled many Turkish swear words.
But I just sat there, gloating. I felt very clean.
And very serene.
I had just had a Turkish bath!

I'm sure you will appreciate the fact that there are no accompanying photos for this story.

 
You want to go where?




Friday, March 28, 2014

Turkey Means Food!

The Blue Mosque of Istanbul
My favorite quotes:
• From 4 year old Nico: “You’re going to Turkey? Will you send me a postcard with turkeys on it?!”

• From a taxi driver: “Trust everything on a stick!” 
(he meant food, like kebabs).

Even before you get to the country, the clues are there: Turkish Airlines serves a meal and freshly squeezed orange juice, even on a short three hour flight (take note United Airlines!). More than that: when you walk onto the plane there are regular flight attendants but also one dressed like a cook, in white apron and tall white cook’s hat. The airline magazine sports recipes.
Everyone is Israel who heard the word ‘Turkey’, said “Food!”, rubbing their bellies and licking their lips. Apparently Turkey means good food. “Eat! Eat! Eat!” said our last taxi driver in Tel Aviv. He didn't speak much more English than that.
The impressive interior of the Blue Mosque.

We arrived at one of Istanbul’s two airports: Sabiha Gökçen. It is about an hour out of town and in Asia. Our hotel had quoted us 70 euros for airport transportation. I just about choked. But after some internet research (Trip Advisor) I found a hotel shuttle for 10 euros p.p. I booked this via their website (http://www.istanbulairportshuttle.com/).
They even met us upon arrival with a large name sign and brought us to our hotel. It is good to know, when traveling to Istanbul, that the OTHER airport, Atatürk, is 20 minutes away and in Europe. Be sure to double check at which airport you will arrive and depart. In our case we arrived at one but will depart from the other. Tricky.

Ancient city walls.
Halfway between the airport and the city we crossed a large bridge over the Bosporus. I spotted a sign along the road saying “Welcome to Europe!”
Again, we are thrilled with the hotel we booked via the internet. It is often a gamble and difficult to judge but we lucked out again. Angel’s Home is in the old city: Sultanahmet. Its crooked, narrow streets and hills remind me of Mont Martre in Paris but its atmosphere is distinctly Middle Eastern with many cafe’s and patios along the streets, fruit stands, water pipes, and twinkling lights.

Cats, cats everywhere.
Cats. What’s with cats in this part of the world? We must have seen thousands of cats, all over Israel, Jordan and now Turkey. Cats around apartment buildings, cats outside stores, cats in garbage cans and along the water front. Cats have inundated the Middle East, it seems. There are more cats here than there are bunnies on Salt Spring…

Mosques dominate the skyline and the call to prayer twirls out of many minarets, swirling its haunting tunes over the rooftops.

Tonight we obliged those who told us to “Eat!”. We had traditional Turkish food in a roadside restaurant, served on beautiful white tablecloths, under colorful lights made of gourds.
A traditional Turkish dish.
A sizzling stone dish held chicken and veggies and mushrooms and rice. We had chestnut puree in a type of corn pastry for dessert, with Turkish coffee and Turkish tea... Then we rolled home to our hotel to watch the lit up skyline and freight ships on the Bosporus.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

'Alles Goed' in Israel

Random Observations

Everywhere throughout Israel are roadside stands, and little restaurants, with a huge fruit press. Huge piles of fresh oranges, pomegranates, and many other kinds are simply sliced in half and hand squeezed in the press. Delicious! I want one of these presses but they don’t fit in my backpack...

People in Israel, by and large, are very welcoming and kind. Arriving at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, we were told to go outside, cross a road and find a local bus stop for the bus ride to the hotel. We couldn’t find it for the life of us. Kees asked a taxi driver but he just tried to talk us into taking the taxi. A passing man stopped and asked “How can I help you?” He then proceeded to ask around, take us across the road and walked us to the bus stop. He shook our hands and was off.
As soon as we got on the bus, I asked the driver where we had to get off. He didn’t know. Instantly four or five people on the bus called out “Don’t worry! We will help you!” They whipped out cell phones, punched in the address we needed and each kept an eye on us to tell us where to get off the bus. I just hoped they agreed on where we had to get off... Many of them asked “Where are you from? Ah! Canada. So far away! So beautiful! I have a cousin in Montreal!”
We have to grin when we listen to people talking together. Using hands and arms, they can have very intense discussions and it sounds to us, as if they are always in a heated argument.

Spices in Old Jerusalem
Some signs are in 3 languages.
If you plan to travel to Israel it might be useful to know that you can get an entry visa upon arrival at the airport, at no cost. However, if you leave the country via a land border, i.e. driving into Jordan, it will cost you 110 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) per person (about US$ 35.-). When you leave Israel by air, there is no exit fee. Entering Jordan at Aqaba did not cost us anything but the exit fee was about 5 JD (Jordanian dinar or US $7.50).

Israel is very expensive. Eating out, even groceries are much more expensive than in most other places. Perhaps the cost resembles that of Australia, where we also found daily living to be very expensive. Public transportation is the exception in Israel: we found it very reasonable.

Internet is readily available everywhere. And, unlike Australia, is free in hotels, restaurants, even on the long distance bus!

Israel in the north is much more lush and green than the arid, rocky south. The south is warmer but, to us, much less attractive.

We were surprised to learn that orthodox Jews do not serve in the Israeli Army, even though this is their own country. Arabs do not serve, which might be understandable in terms of politics and religion. This leaves a relatively small section of the population that has mandatory military duty.

In Jordan we were told that many people have canceled plans to travel there, since the troubles in Syria and Egypt. In daily life, we notice little or nothing of the conflicts in and around Israel. However, while we were here a partial mobilization had been called and there was military personnel on almost all buses going to and from their stations. We see the odd military helicopter patrolling the shore, but not much else is noticeable. I  sure hope peace prevails for all countries in this region.

Along major highways, signs are bilingual or trilingual - in Hebrew, Arabic and English. But in most other places, they are only in Hebrew. My first reaction when we arrived, was that we could have rented a car to drive around. Traffic is fairly civilized, although some drivers are crazy and lines on the roads seem to be mere suggestions. But the further we traveled around the country, the more we realized that streets often don’t have names, and that many signs are not decipherable at all. It would have been very difficult to find our way around, unless you have a very good GPS.

Our Arab taxi driver in Jerusalem heard that we were born in Holland. “Alles goed!” he yelled while gripping the wheel and swerving through traffic. (‘all is well’) Each question or concern we had, he waved away with a hearty “Alles goed!” So now that’s what we say when we’re not sure how something is going to work... alles goed!

Language: we’ve picked up very little here in the way of language. Some in Hebrew, some in Arabic.
‘Shalom’ and ‘Salaam’; ‘To da and Shukrah” for thank you.

We are staying south of Tel Aviv, in Bat Yam, right now, and not many speak English. Even the restaurant menu’s are in Hebrew only. We have no idea what we order but ‘beer’ seems to work in all languages. Tonight I asked for white wine. It came in a large glass, more than luke warm, it was very warm. I asked for ice. No ice. Did I want cold wine? Well, then they had red wine for me. It was ice cold. Tradition!

My favorite airport moment: an Orthodox Jewish family walked by us. All dressed in black and white. The father had long corkscrew curls and wore a black hat, the mother long black skirt and white shawl. The little boy spotted the punk ahead of me in the check-in line. He stopped and his mouth dropped open. He stared at the blue mohawk and earrings, the black lace gloves and studded jacket. A wonderful cross-cultural moment.

We have had a fantastic adventure traveling around Israel and into a small corner of Jordan. We have met such nice people and seen many amazing places. Tomorrow we leave for Turkey.

Shalom, Israel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Petra - truly one of the Wonders of the World.

The Siq is over 1 KM long.
How can words describe the world wonder that is Petra?
Before we left on our trip, I read many books and websites. Lonely Planet perhaps described it best of all: “Nothing you read about Petra will prepare you for your first glimpse of the Treasury when you emerge from the Siq.”
And that proved to be true.
I had read about the Nabataeans who lived here more than 2,000 years ago. How they carved facades of buildings out of the rocks in which they made their homes. About how Romans eventually conquered them by cutting off their ingenious water supply systems. I had seen many pictures of the red rock carvings. I knew from tourist information that the Siq, the long steep gorge leading to the site, was over a kilometer long.
But indeed nothing prepared me for that first sight. It truly did take my breath away and left me all choked up.
Beforehand, I had found it hard to picture it all. Turns out that ‘Petra’ only refers to the actual archeological site itself. The town immediately around it is called Wadi Musa.
That’s where the hotels, the restaurants and everything else is. But there’s a part of town right outside Petra, so that you can walk there. And then there’s most of Wadi Musa which is way up on the hills and much too far to walk.
Our Bedouin Camp was a 10 minute drive away, near Little Petra - a small, more natural side of cave dwellings, not incorporated into the preserved area. Our camp offered rides to and from Petra whenever we needed them.

The Treasury
Entrance tickets are expensive: 50 dinars (about $75.-) for one day, 55 dinars for 2 days. So we bought 2 day tickets, which really is the minimum you need to do the place justice.
We walked past the customary tourist traps toward the Siq - a good 10 minute walk. The Siq is a canyon with steep rock faces on either side, sometimes not more than 2 meters wide. I was surprised to see that most of the ground surface is ‘pavement’ - even when it is ancient Roman roads. Inside the Siq it is cool and shaded.
After just over a kilometer, you spot a top glimpse of ‘The Treasury’. A few more paces and you emerge from the shade onto a large, dirt ‘market place’. At first glance all you see is The Treasury: sunlight paints this facade orange. It towers almost 40 meters high. Especially when people stand in front of it, you realize how huge it is. How did these people carve these facades, and pillars? Did they build scaffolding? Use ropes? It boggles the mind to think these masterpieces were made some 2,000 years ago.

The other thing I had not quite realized, is that Petra is not the odd ancient building, but the actual remnants of a large city. Once you emerge from the Siq, you enter what once was a complete and bustling city. Old roads are still visible, some lined with columns. There are many homes, also used as tombs. Besides the large Treasury, there are many other major buildings, including the Monastery. There is a large amphitheater and numerous other buildings. It is believed that some 20,000 Nabataeans lived here.


Walking around Petra all day, climbing staircase after staircase, I kept thinking of the Swiss traveler who rediscovered Petra in the early 1800’s. He would have been so amazed to come across these unexpected sights. Petra was, by then, a city in ruins and used by Bedouin who made their homes in the convenient caves. It is believed that only 15% of Petra has been uncovered today. Perhaps one day scientists will learn why the Nabataeans seized to exist.

We walked in the hot sunshine, climbing, scrambling over rocks. Two days gave us a good impression. I wouldn’t want to “do” Petra in any less than that. The Bedouin women everywhere try to sell you jewelry, tea, anything. I was shocked to see little children, as young as 5 years old, selling postcards to tourists.
One of my favorite books ever is I Married A Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. This New Zealand woman traveled to Petra when she was about 20, fell in love with a Bedouin, married him and spent much of her life living in a cave and raising her children there. (http://marriedtoabedouin.com/)
The book is a fascinating account of an unusual life. After her husband died, she left but has now returned to Petra to make silver jewelry with local women. It was fun to meet the author and chat with her. She confirmed that those little Bedouin children should be in school and that tourists should avoid buying from them. Every penny they earn is discouragement to send them to school.

We climbed the 850 steps to the impressive Monastery, the largest structure in Petra. By then I was willing to pay well for fresh lemonade! Which we did...
The books also did not tell us about the piles of warm donkey dung we would encounter on most steps... Donkeys raced through the Siq, their hooves clattering on the old stones, as they gave rides to tourists who had underestimated the amount of hiking you have to do in Petra. Donkey and camel owners everywhere shouted at us "Ride a sexy donkey for a sexy lady?!" "Taxi with air conditioning!"

I am forever grateful that we were able to visit Petra and see the amazing sites with our own eyes. Hope you can visit it, too, some day.





 For more details on Petra's history read:


http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/lost-city-petra/

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sleeping in a Bedouin Tent in Jordan

Bedouin woman
The bus from Tiberias drove south, as far south as you can go in Israel.
We slowly descended to the Dead Sea which, at 417 meters below sea level, is the lowest spot on earth. Crusted salt deposited clung to the shore line. The air was hazy with sand blowing in from Egypt. All day we drove along a solid wall of light brown mountains to the east - behind which we knew was Jordan.
Via Jericho and Masada, we drove south through the Negev desert. Considering that the bus cost us only about $25.-, the bus seems to be one of the most economic ways to travel throughout Israel.
Eilat, the southern most town in Israel, was a disappointment. It seemed a dusty, run-down version of Las Vegas with glitzy hotels, a small strip of beach and lots of amusement places. The worst thing was the airport. It is right smack in the middle of town. Huge airplanes come thundering over, missing the mall by a few feet. You can sit sipping beer on the beach and watch the belly of an airplane come right overhead.
We were glad we hadn’t planned on spending more than one night here.
Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

The next morning we took a taxi to the Jordanian border. The paperwork on the Israeli side took perhaps a half hour because of line ups. The Jordan side was faster. Then we sat sipping Turkish coffee until our taxi showed up. We had booked this via our accommodations in Petra. A beautiful new car with a lovely guy who spoke English picked us up and drove us the 2 hours to Petra, at a very reasonable rate.
Driving along we noticed large white tents with U.N. logos. “Tents given for free to Syrian refugees,” our driver explained. Then he grinned. “Once the refugees move to the city, they sell these free tents for a profit to the Bedouin!” Probably not what the U.N. had in mind...

The camp at night
The accommodations I had picked from the internet. Petra is surrounded by regular hotels: the Ramada Inn, the Marriott. But, I thought, why would you want to stay in a normal hotel when you visit a place as unusual as Petra? Especially when you can stay in a bedouin camp?! On the website, Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp looked like fun. (http://www.sevenwondersbedouincamp.com/homepage.html)
We decided to be brave and booked a 3 night stay in a tent. And we were glad we did. To us, three nights was the perfect length of time.

The camp turned out to be a collection of square white tents, with inner and outer shells, a sold frame with a door. Inside were two metal bed frames with a big soft mattress, topped by 3 heavy blankets. When we crawled in at night, we felt like we were in a big warm nest surrounded by cool desert air and no sounds at all. Until 6 AM when bleating sheep strolled by. And until our last night when we laid awake listening to the distant thunder of shooting in the Gaza strip.

Me in the bedouin tent where we spent the evenings sipping tea.
We only had electricity between 7 PM and 11 PM but didn't miss anything. Internet was turned on for about an hour at night and one could see why it was so limited. As soon as they had internet, guests were staring at their devices instead of talking to each other! We met people from all over the world in this camp, and there were only about 14 people there at the same time, which was lovely and quiet.

Besides the 20 some guest tents, there were several very large, black traditional Bedouin tents. These had carpets on the floor, and many large woven pillows for reclining. At one end was a primitive wood stove belching smoke into the tent. And heat. We were toasty warm and ended up eating most meals here. We also drank endless small glasses of tea. We liked that this camp, as many Muslims sites, was alcohol free. But tea, in contrast, flowed freely. A sweet black tea with sage. Very addictive...
On the first night we were told that they made a point of serving something different for dinner every night. Every night we had rice, chicken, salad and potatoes. It was good - but no variety :-)
The camp was run by several very nice, friendly young guys. They were very thoughtful and kind, bringing us tea, offering rides, etc. At night they played a traditional string instrument and a drum, singing long, soulful ballads in Arabic.

A sleeping tent.
At US 45.- p.p. for one night, including breakfast AND dinner, this was likely a fraction of the cost of one of the fancy hotels and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

On our first afternoon, we strolled down to “Little Petra” - a small version of cave dwellings and carved facades, which is still ‘in the wild’ without entrance fee or any protection. It was a Friday afternoon - weekend for the Muslims who were out in full force: family after family squatting in the shade of rocks, making campfires, cooking tea and grilling meat. Children were running everywhere, women sat in the shade visiting. Smoke twirled up behind every rock from their little fires while they laughed and sang and enjoyed a sunny afternoon.
The evening entertainment.

When I watch a real shepherd, complete with crook, walking through a field of boulders with his flock, wearing a long black dress and flowing head scarves, I marvel at how little seems to have changed in this area over the ages.
Until he whips out his cell phone...


One night they cooked dinner in a deep pit in the ground.

This metal basket held layers of chicken, veggies and potatoes and cooked in the ground for 2 hours.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We Made It!

Ancient synagogue excavations.
Gorgeous blue sky greeted us on the last day of our hike. Arbel Guesthouse outdid itself with breakfast: fresh grapefruits and avocados from their own garden, olives, cucumber, tomatoes. Fresh yogurt. Homemade tea. Bread, granola and baked eggs. This was by far the best gourmet place we stayed at in Israel.
We hoisted our day packs onto our backs and set off - immediately down a green valley of wildflowers and past ancient ruins of a synagogue. We descended along narrow cow trails into a steep valley, rock cliffs rising on both sides. We met several herds of cows with new calves.
The valley below Moshav Arbel





At the bottom of the valley we skirted the Bedouin village of Wadi Haman, walking through orchard after orchard of grapefruits, olives, oranges and bananas.
Bedouin village of Wadi Haman.
And then we saw it up close: the Sea of Galilee! I touched the water and marveled at the idea that we were now at 200 meters below sea level! The Sea of Galilee is Israel's largest lake. Directly across from the sleepy villages is the Golan Heights, and then Syria. We don't hear or see much of any violence. The only military presence we have seen, so far, is the odd soldier, a helicopter now and then, and two huge tanks in the middle of a forest. When we got closer we realized that we completely inflatable! Decoy tanks?




It is interesting to note that all Israeli Jewish men and women (except the ultra orthodox) serve in the army swell as the Druze. The Arab Israelis are exempt from military service.



The only place to have lunch in the shade was in a viaduct!
As we walked along the sea of Galilee to our final destination, we saw the Church where fishes and bread were multiplied, according to the gospel. We saw the place where Mary came from, Mount Beatitudes where the sermon on the mount was delivered, and finally ended by in Capernaum (interestingly pronounced Kafh Na Ghoom), the village where Jesus reportedly lived, picked the disciples and more. Ancient ruins are being preserved and busloads of Christians from around the world visit the site.

Sea of Galilee!
65 KM!
My toes are sore but we did it.
If you are interested in hiking AND in visiting Israel, we highly recommend this experience.
You can hike the entire trail on your own by following the orange symbols. It is a good idea to buy the book and map of the Jesus Trail. We booked through the organization that has developed the trail: http://jesustrail.com
When you book with them, they advertise this as a 6 day hike. In reality it is only 4 days in which you walk 65 KM. Day 1 is the day you arrive, on your own, in Nazareth and stay at the Fauzi Azar Inn. Day 2 is meant for exploring Nazareth. The Inn offers a free tour. That was the only part we did not like. True, we are not good tour people, but 45 minutes into the 'tour' we were still standing in the same spot and had only heard about the guide herself and about the Inn's owner. It felt a bit like one of those time share promo talks. We actually left the group and explored on our own, having a wonderful time.
The organized hike is not cheap but when I prized out different hotels along the route to look at making all of our own bookings, it seemed to be about the same price. The organized hike includes all breakfasts and all dinners while on the trail. And, best of all, it includes having your luggage moved for you. This worked like a charm. Our luggage was always waiting for us. On the last day, the taxi driver who had our luggage, picked us up at the end and brought us to a hotel we had booked in the city of Tiberias.
On our very first day, a volunteer (in our case a lovely American girl) accompanied us. This made us feel comfortable and helped them make sure that we could find the trail on our own.

So, now we are resting our feet (Kees is having a cold beer!) and tomorrow we take public busses through the entire length of Israel, via Jericho, the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert, to Eilat - the southern most town in Israel.

From there we will cross the border into Jordan. Next time: Petra!
The end of the trail!