Friday, 1 March 2019

A Wonderful Experience & a Nightmare all in one - Israel and Palestine OCT 2017

I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT'S TAKEN MORE THAN A YEAR TO POST THIS BLOG. And as such, it will be more of just a sketchy overview...

For years I’ve wanted to visit the Holy Land but knowing it was also my mother’s dream, I determined I wouldn’t go without her. My sister decided she wanted to come too and a church she knew of were organising a tour which they did annually. My first mistake. Large group tour holidays are not for me. I’m a seasoned traveller and don’t need to be babied when travelling. I’m also a punctual person so waiting half an hour for the rest of the group to straggle back to the meeting point or blatantly disobey orders by stopping to shop when we were told not to really annoyed me. There was a constant, daily struggle between those who were keen to follow the itinerary, timings etc. and those who were set on doing their own thing despite the affect on the group. 
As it’s been almost a year this will be a quick summary.

We stayed predominately in Jerusalem on Mount Olive with the most spectacular views of the Old Town, which was a blessing as it was the only positive thing about this hotel. As well as Mount Olive, Old Town and Church of Accession I also visited church of holy sepulchre, Jewish cemetery, Garden Tomb, Sea of Galilee cruise, station on the cross , dome of the rock, zaccheus tree.

Here are the highlights

Masada - this was amazing! I really wanted to ascend by foot but our tour leader said there wouldn’t be enough time so we took a cable car up. However the queues were extremely long on the way down so while some of our group took their time walking around myself and 2 other ladies were granted permission to descend by foot. The sun was steaming hot and I felt it even through my umbrella. What started as a good idea became an issue very quickly. I had earlier taken off my trainers when we were told we had to use cable car and opted for my cushioned sandals which while supportive weren’t the best choice of footwear. But the real problem lay in the fact that I was descending a ginormous mountain by foot, when I’m scared of heights!! A few metres in I knew I’d struggle on the twists an turns and so had to slow down. But when the ground evened out, I made up for it. Once I had made it down I looked back up the mountain behind me and the sheer realisation of my achievement hit me. I had done it! And boy did my legs know it the next day but the swollen ankles were a small price to pay.

Western Wall -It was great seeing these places that I’ve heard / read about. There are 2 separate sides - one for men and one for women. Many people were touching the wall and praying and I could see the bits of papers that people had written their prayers / requests on and stuck in-between the brickwork. There were also some plastic chairs around for those who didn’t wish to stand and I was intrigued by the women walking backwards so as not to turn their back to the wall. 

He Is Risen! Really enjoyed it here. Our group almost didn’t get to visit as you have to make reservations and only a limited amount of groups are permitted at anytime. According to our tour guide there were record numbers of people in Israel this year. When we got the call to say we had a time slot we had to leave the place we were visiting in Palestine and rush straight back but it was worth the rush. At the tomb we had a British guide who worked at the site. He was very funny, informative and engaging. We had a small service and some in our group took communion. We were shown an old wine press and allowed to visit the empty tomb. It was done in a very orderly manner, 6 or 7 people allowed in at a time for a few seconds. With this kind of organisation - I could tell it was Brits running the place :) Our tour guide had told us a few days prior when we had visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  that many believed that was were Jesus was buried but the Garden Tomb was the more likely place. After seeing both I do agree. There was a gift shop on the way out which was reasonably priced with all funds going back into the upkeep of the place. If this place is not on your list for a visit to Israel - it should be!

We also spent 2 nights in Jericho and the highlight here for me was the cruise on the Sea of Galilee. The cruise was amazing. I gave the captain my iPod, and thought the group dance steps like the electric slide to Kirk Franklin's I've Been Looking. And later on a couple members of our group (which was predominately Indian) showed us some Bollywood moves.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Our guide gave us the information about the church on the outside and then showed us inside. Once inside though the crowd was crazy. There were people pushing and shoving, hardly any room to move. Clearly no health and safety measures. The queue for what was meant to be the grave of Jesus was way too long to even consider joining (coupled with the fact we know He's no longer there ;). On my way out the were people pushing to light candles over something that seemed like a large container of wax. It looked very unsteady to me. I could see smoke from all the candles they were lighting and I walked as quickly past as possible as I thought any minute now a disaster could occur. I really think this place would benefit from some people trying to control / direct the crowds.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A Tale of Two (Polish) cities - Sep 2017

It’s September and so far I’ve actually managed to go somewhere every month. Wey hey! For this trip I took 3 flights over 3 days on my first visit to Poland.
My flight out was with Ryanair and there was the initial thought of ‘what happens if my flight is cancelled’ as it was during their ‘let’s cancel 50 flights a day so our staff can take holiday’ initiative. Thankfully my flight to Wroclaw wasn’t affected. I

flew LOT airlines to Warsaw (hadn’t heard of them til I was booking flights). They're a decent airline and give you a chocolate bar and a drink on the 50 minute flight. More than BA who I flew home with who have cut all complimentary drinks and snacks on their short hauls. Enough about flights.

Wroclaw is the largest city in western Poland and the fourth largest in the country.
I hadn’t planned much for this stop as I was only spending one day here. I started with a walk to and around the old town. Lovely buildings and cobbled streets.
My first purchase was an ice-cream cone. Mascarpone with honey and nuts. Absolutely amazing. My only regret is that I settled for one scoop. The first impression I got of this city unfortunately was how aggressive the beggars were. I was followed, poked repeatedly with a beggar’s cup and had a cup shoved so close to my face I had to turn my head swiftly to avoid a collision. There was more to follow in Warsaw.
The city was quiet during the day on a Tuesday as I wondered around. I passed a filming set which looked as though they were shooting a commercial but it may have been a film. From the old town I walked through market square to Slodowa Island. I usually prefer printed maps during my explorations but the one from the hotel wasn’t very good and I had to resort to Google map (praise God for the ability to use data plans freely in the EU). The walk was very pretty, scenic and most of it along the river once I left the city walls. The island was quiet which was to be expected at this time of the year but it had an unspoken beauty and was very peaceful.
I determined I’d walk to the musical fountain which was a further 46 mins walk from where I was. I had already been walking for 2 hours but thought my fitbit would thank me. The fountain was larger than I expected and dispiste it being too early for the lights and music I loved it. There was a small coffee van and seats for customers lined along one side of the fountain. 
Literally behind was the Japanese garden. I wasn’t able to spend as long here as I would have linked as I had set myself the challenge of walking back to the hotel. A further 50 minutes.
Dinner was in a restaurant where no one spoke English. It was kind of like a buffet where food was on display and you selected what you wanted, it was weighed and you paid by gram. I ended up with some cottage cheese like dumpling, fish and some interesting potatoes. The salad bar was a bit easier to understand and so was the dessert table where I had a very delicious coconut cheesecake. 
Warsaw is the capital of and largest city in Poland.
It rained virtually throughout my entire stay here. Despite the persistent rain I was determined to explore this city by foot. I walked the 46 mins from my hotel to the Old Town where I picked with a walking tour. A brief history of Poland and how it changed when the Germans and Russians invaded. here was the on going joke about how Krakow and Warsaw hated each other. What I found most interested about this tour was the slight inside into the Jewish way of life prior to the war.
By the end my trainers and socks were soaked through and so I defeatedly caught the bus. I had only the one pair of shoes so I resorted to blow drying them with the hair dryer so I’d have something to wear to dinner.
Dinner that night was at Zapiecek. I didn’t have a reservation and had to wait outside until a table became available. It’s a tiny restaurant but rated as one of the best in the area for traditional Polish food. I started with meat dumplings, followed by the pork knuckle and pork ribs.
The walking tour had me intrigued about Jewish history and so I walked (through the rain again) to the Museum of he history of Polish Jews. What I loved about this museum was that in it’s six rooms, only one concentrated on the war. The others showed how the Jews arrived in Poland, their lifestyles, beliefs and so much more. There was information about their exodus to Israel after the war and figured that’s why I had bumped not so many Israeli tourist here, more-so than any other country I’ve visited to date.
Another long walk on another rainy day meant that my trainers were now soaked through and unlike the previous day when I’d be able to dry them at the hotel, I was heading straight to the airport after my museum visit. There was no way i was going to bored a flight with wet feet so I purchased as part of very cheap, very fluorcent pair of shoes - and the socks to match.
One of the great things about credit cards being so widely accepted (and my Nationwide select credit card not charging commission) is that you don’t have to try to guess how much currency to change before you leave home and carry large amounts of foreign money with you. The downside to that though is that I been to some countries (Sweden) where I haven’t even seen their local currency. To combat this I try to change around £10 -£20 in local currency so I can see what the country’s money looks like. I got 40zlt for my £8.69. Turns out the only time I really needed it was to tip my walking tour guide and everywhere else took credit card.

With my last 7zlt I purchased a few items from a bakery near the hotel. I had a sausage roll with was filled with ketchup and I disliked. A cheese filled bread pastry which was very sweet. A custard type cream filled donut which I thought wold be that great but was surprisingly good and a very light bread which was plain, but nice.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

A Day On The Lake (Lake District Aug 2017)

The good news is I made it to the Lake District! The bad news is a bad case of Vertigo (so says the doctor) attacked me a couple days prior and thus it wasn’t quite the adventure I had hoped.
I   settled for the exploration of one lake - Windermere. My initial plan was to do a boat cruise in conjunction with one of the four mile walks but as I had been warned to ‘take it easy’ and my dad wasn’t sure if he could do the entire walk, I decided we’d spend most of the day on the lake. We booked the Freedom of the Lakes pass allowing for any combination of boat tours (and a train ride) and commenced with a cruise from Ambleside to Lakeside. Lake Winderemere (which I later learned was a mere not a lake) is the largest in the Lake District. The boat stopped briefly at Bowness to pick up and drop off passengers before making its way to Lakeside. I noted if I did this lake again that was where I’d commence my journey as it was a lot livelier than Ambleside.

Once there, we embarked on a nostalgic steam train ride to Haverthwaite. There wasn’t a lot to do at Haverthwaite. It was great for children as there was a large adventure playground but I headed straight for the little cafe on the station platform. Nothing special but they do have a captive audience as it’s the only place to eat. I went for the beer sausage that came smothered in onions so much so that even I, an all time onion lover, couldn’t finish them (though to be fair they were rather soggy and even my dad commented on that fact). I took a trail when lead up a hill with an mazing view of the surrounding area.

On the trip back we stopped at Bowness for a wonder around and a rummage through the gift shops.  I braved the upstairs of the boat on the return journey. The wind had picked up and it was chilling but with it for the view. Was happy that after all these years I'd finally made it to the one place in England I'd always wanted to visit just disappointed I couldn't do more once there. But there'll be other opportunities, God willing.