Sunday, 31 May 2015

A train to Jerusalem

Towards the end of the holiday, we took a train to Jerusalem for the day. There are plenty of coach tours, where everything is laid on, but we thought it would be more exciting to be a bit more intrepid.
The Wailing Wall, where Jews go to pray. They write messages on small pieces of paper and insert them into the holes between the stones. Men and women are segregated. The last time I visited was nearly 20 years ago, on a Friday evening, which is the Sabbath. It was mesmerising and I remember it as being just magical.

I loved seeing all the different tribes of people. Hasidic Jews, Ethiopians, Arabs, Christian nuns, soldiers. Some brought there by faith, others for work, and then others still, like us, brought there to experience history and culture.

The old city can be entered via various different gates. There is an Arab quarter, a Jewish quarter, a Christian quarter and an Armenian quarter. Once inside the gates, you find yourself in a warren of enclosed walkways, filled with all the sights and sounds of the bazaar.
A typical meal. Houmous, arab salad, pickled vegetables and pitta bread. I'll eat toasted pine nuts with anything.
This is on the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice on the Via Dolorosa, the street which Jesus walked, carrying his cross, towards the place of his crucifixion. You have the most amazing view over the whole city. Behind me you can see the gold dome of the Temple Mount.
The Armenian church of St James was the most breathtakingly beautiful church, which we happened on quite by accident. A service was just about to take place, so I blindly followed a few people through a heavy curtain and found myself in this exquisite interior. There are dozens of chandeliers and incense burners in all the colours of the rainbow hanging from the ceiling, kilims on the floor and blue and white tiles on the walls. The ceilings have decorative plasterwork roses. It was perfection and I loved just sitting there and absorbing the beauty.

I'd love those blue and white tiles in my fireplace
I felt like Alice in Wonderland knocking on that door. I'm only 5 foot tall, so whoever's on the other side must be fairytale tiny. That's a 1960's psychedelic maxi dress there, with a shawl over the top to cover up my head in the Arab quarter and the churches.

So that's my tour of Israel done. Must be time to book another holiday soon, surely? :)

Friday, 22 May 2015

The ancient port of Jaffa

A couple of days into our holiday, our friend had arranged for us to have a holiday within a holiday. Before dropping us off at our accommodation, he drove us round Jaffa, and I fell in love.
Imagine an ancient harbour surrounded by crumbling old buildings, cafes and restaurants, a flea market that winds through street after street and photographic opportunities on every corner. A stunning patchwork of colour, noise, smells and bustle. You would all love it!
Her hair is fabulous. And her eyelashes.
We spent three days exploring the old city, the flea market, the harbour, the sea front and then venturing further into the modern city of Tel Aviv. 
Each day, we would walk down different streets. I love to get a feel for where and how people really live.
You walk up those steps to get into the old city. It's particularly lovely at night when the temperature is all mellow, the lights are twinkling and in the background a jazz band is playing. 
Here I am in a Kinky Melon dress recreating a scene from the bible, Rachel at the well. That 1960s tourist souvenir came from the flea market. It's been waiting 50 years for someone to take it home in their suitcase.
Well, it is the Holy Land!

Next up, we go on a train adventure to another holy place. Coming along for the ride?

Monday, 18 May 2015

Israel, the land of milk and honey. And hummus, falafels, bagels, pretzels, avocados...

We've just got back from the most gloriously happy holiday, visiting friends in Israel.
Amit and Yulia live in Bat Yam, which is a satellite of Tel Aviv, the capital city. Their apartment is in a round building, with balconies wrapped around it, giving the most amazing views over Bat Yam and beyond.
When the sea is that close, you'd be mad not to swim in it every day. That's the Mediterranean you can see in the photos.
Lovely new friends, Yulia and Ariane. Both so incredibly sweet. Look at those beautiful smiles!
Amit and Yulia were the most welcoming and generous hosts, and Ariane is the most adorable baby, happy and calm, just like her Mum and Dad.

At night, the city is lit up with what looks like miles of fairy lights. You can see Rishon, Holon, Natanya and Jerusalem in the distance. It's a magical and mesmerising view. We spent hours on the balcony just watching the city at night.
Their apartment is the penthouse, and our bedroom suite with balcony was on the upper level. Extremely glamorous!

The main theme of the holiday was food. Hummus, falafel, shakshuka, pickled vegetables, salads, all manner of bread. We never stopped eating. We might have done some drinking too...
A big night out in Tel Aviv. That's Amit with me and that's Asi, his best friend, in the background. It was so lovely to catch up with him. The last time I was in Israel, they were sharing a flat, down south in Eilat

One day it was 'I'm taking you for the breakfast of champions', another 'You want to try the best falafel in Israel?' We visited other friends, all of whom insisted we eat. Food glorious food.

Doesn't look much from outside, does it? But in a space smaller than my sitting room, they've been turning out the best falafel in Israel for nearly 100 years. Three generations of the same family. We had a great laugh with them, they trying out their English on us, we trying out our Hebrew and Arabic on them.
I've been friends with Amit for nearly 20 years and he remains one of my absolute favourite people. Intelligent, funny, adventurous, interesting, loyal, incredibly generous and kind. Hopefully, once we've lost a few kilos, we'll meet again! ;)
Within the holiday, he arranged for us to stay a few days in a small beachside apartment, belonging to his friends Babai and Nataly. We were really spoilt.
Anyway, now I've set the scene, the next couple of posts are filled with pretty pictures of our travels. I hope you'll join me.