A Travellerspoint blog

September 2019


lovely to be back!

sunny 28 °C

How lovely to be wondering the streets of this wonderful Old City. This is certainly one of my “happy places”. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the welcome; because this is not yet a tourist venue one can wander the narrow streets, lingering at the shop fronts and soaking in the atmosphere and no-one tries to sell you anything!

So different to the tourist souks. The locals are pleased to see you and the welcome is warm. Our welcome was especially warm as the Sayeh family invited us to their home. It was very special to share this time, Mohammed (aka as Sayeh in the uk!) and Deema’s wedding. The evening we arrived the family were gathering for the forthcoming wedding, some relatives travelling from Jordan. We shared a meal on the terrace with grandmas and uncles and cousins, babies and toddlers. Everyone made such an effort to speak English for us, which is good as our Arabic would have meant quite a stilted conversation! Sayeh’s uncle made Kanefeh (a Nablusi desert) in an outside oven, very much reminded me of western men and their control of the BBQ!


The day before the wedding we left the family to the preparations and took in a few more sights.
A trip up Mount Gerizim, the Samaritan Village
and now also an illegal settlement (Israeli citizens living on land designated for Palestinians by the Oslo agreement).
There is an excellent view of Nablus from here. You can see Joseph’s Tomb, Jacobs Well (possible site of the woman at the well story in the gospels), Tel Balata (5000BC historical site) and the Balata refugee camp. When we arrived at the look out there were a group of about 10 Israeli soldiers using their gun sights as binoculars as they looked over the city. I found it most intimidating as they looked as if they were taking aim, also this is not an area where Israeli soldiers should be. However they soon left and walked past us with a casual “hi!”

It was women’s day at the Hammam ( Turkish baths) so I spent a happy few hours steaming in this beautiful Ottoman building. Women are a little like children: they don’t allow a language barrier to spoil the enjoyment of the moment! I used to go to these baths when I was volunteering so it brought back happy memories.

As you can see by this photo the Old city has peaceful traditions which continue to this day

A visit to a soap factory, eating falafel, drinking Turkish coffee, haircut for Steve and our days were soon filled!


Posted by Valfowles 15:58 Archived in Israel Tagged nablus Comments (0)

Jericho and Bethlehem and onto Jerusalem

The Walled off Hotel

sunny 36 °C

We had intended to get the shared minibus ( Service) to Jericho but Deema’s brother knew a taxi driver who did us a good deal so we had nearly door to door A/c transport as we dropped through the desert a few hundred metres below seal level. I say nearly door to door as his taxi was new and unscratched so he did not want to bring it into the narrow streets of the Old City.
Jericho is close to the Dead sea ( although the Dead sea is retreating at quite an alarming rate0, and 233 metres below sea level. It has a natural spring and so is quite fertile and famous for its harvest of dates.
As we sat outside in the evening we could hear the dates falling from the trees!
There is a cable car up to the Mount of Temptation and St George’s Monastery. At the top you are still below sea level, most strange! It was 36 celsius and there seem to be hundreds of steps to the monastery. If this is the mountain where Jesus spent 40 days and nights no wonder his thoughts were sending him to despair ( is that a good way to describe temptation?).
We also visited the ancient walls of Jericho, there were various ages of historic ruins and I am not sure if they have really exposed the ones from Joshua’s battle of Jericho. Nevertheless as you stand in the searing heat and look across the River Jordon to the Jordanian hills it makes the Old Testament stories come to life and you can imagine a little more of their context.
Our Hotel (loose sense of the word) was out of the town and boasted itself a farm stay—2 mangy camels and one poor horse in a tinned roof pen. However it Had a small pool which seemed very clean and we had this to ourselves. I think this is most unusual in the West Bank, but it was most welcome.
The next day we travelled to Bethlehem via Bethany. Past the ridiculous signs warning people that they are putting themselves in danger of death by entering the towns.
We arrived at the bus station in Bethlehem just below manger Square where hundreds of tourists were being herded to the Church of the Nativity. This however was not our destination (we have been before and it did absolutely nothing to remind me of the birth of Jesus) we were headed to the Walled Off Hotel. Sometimes known as the Banksy Hotel. This was an absolute highlight of our trip, every original and quirky detail. We were living in a work of art! Banksy has done so much for the Palestinian people, all those we met in Bethlehem were so proud of the hotel. This video explains it better than me. Its 12 minutes long but worth a watch https://youtu.be/CMS6Ds3qryY
We took a walking tour along sections of the wall and to the Aida refugee camp.
Good to hear and see some of the projects that are encouraging local enterprise, I was particularly impressed by a new recycled clothing range using older Palestinian garments, with intricate embroidery and weaving, and upcycling them into designer clothing. Good job I had no extra room in my rucksack!
We had the most comfortable night’s sleep of the holiday, it was strange sleeping under/ in a work of art! Also, I have never kept a hotel room so tidy, it felt all wrong to leave things strewn around!
And here is a little video of the secret door!

The next day we walked to Manger Square and bought some replacement Hebron Glass wineglasses and then to the DHL office and the bus to Jerusalem. A 6 mile journey that, with checkpoints, takes a good hour. Because we are old (I think over 60 is the cut off) and probably because we have a British Passport we can stay on the bus at the checkpoint. Most of the Palestinians have to exit the bus and wait in line, no shelter from the sun. The armed soldiers check the papers of those on the bus and then the waiting queue before they are allowed back on. Process took about 20 – 30 mins but it was not a busy day. Its quite unnerving having soldiers with machine guns and wearing flak jackets, helmets etc making their way up the bus.
It was the sabbath in Jerusalem so not very busy. We did not wander too far from the Jerusalem Hotel
which is very close to the Garden Tomb. The next morning we took the shuttle to the airport. We had a short tour of some of the narrow suburbs near the Yehuda Market which interested me as this was where my parents lived in the 80’s when I visited with 2 small children. The tour was because the driver stopped first to buy flowers, then again to pick up passengers raid a bin and cut a coke bottle in half. He then drove through some extremely narrow streets to deliver said flowers beautifully displayed in old coke bottle! Whether he had a guilty secret or perhaps it was to mark the start of the Jewish New year Rosh Hashanah?
We arrived in time for our wonderful Ryan Air flight to Sofia. Tel Aviv airport was, as ever, thorough and efficient!
Our flights this holiday have amounted to 0.88 tonnes of Carbon (between 2 people). I believe we should be aiming at no more than 3 tonnes per year per person.

Posted by Valfowles 15:47 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

The Wedding

Deema and Sayeh's wedding Nablus 24/25th Sept

sunny 28 °C

Our first experience of a Palestinian Wedding and we were so well looked after, both before and during the event, thank you Sayeh family and Deema.
The exchanging of vows etc has already been made at the engagement ceremony, as I understand it the wedding is a celebration and sealing of these vows.
The first part was a huge celebration at the Nablus Hyatt wedding halls, men and women celebrate in separate halls. This seemed a little strange to us because it was different to our usual experience, but you know what? It was excellent! It occurred to me that most of our social events in the UK are “couple oriented” this model was so much more inclusive. The women’s hall was great fun with women of all ages dancing and laughing from the toddlers to the great grannies! Steve said the men’s hall was less dancing and more chatting, he was taken on a guided car tour by Deema’s brother of the North mountain ( opposite Gerizim), they took some toddlers home for bedtime as well!
As I entered the women’s hall the all female line up of relatives welcomed me and showed me to a table where I found 2 more English women
Deema and Sayeh came through the entrance to traditional dancing (dabka) and drumming and then joined us in the women’s hall.
Wedding entrance https://youtu.be/sEbwmqKBuI8
Sayeh joins in! https://youtu.be/XGwegTx4Ggc
Everyone was in their finery, very sparkly! Many of the women relaxed the dress code and it took of Hijabs and long coats. For me I then find it easier to recall people, because as westerners we frequently refer to folks by their hair colour style etc.
Sayeh and Deema took the first dance then immediate family and then we were invited to join in. Smiles and welcoming hands and a few giggles as we tried to master the wrist and hand movements of middle eastern dancing. The cake was cut with a sword to accompanying indoor fireworks.
Later the women prepared for the men to enter the hall, some but not all, replacing hijabs etc. Once the men joined us Sayeh and Deema sat on the stage and were draped with presents (of gold and money) and photographs of friends and family groups were taken. More dancing, more photos and, of course, no alcohol. The bride and groom then left. The English resisted the urge to tie a tin can to the exhaust pipe!
The next day we all met at another venue, where folks sat in family and friendship groups. We ate Ouzi – rice almonds chicken etc and Palestinian deserts. Sayeh and Deema joined us, Deema wearing a different wedding dress, without the train etc. Then back to Sayeh’s family house for tea and deserts (more!). The bride and groom packed for their honeymoon
whilst we chatted and shared photos of grandchildren on our mobile phones, ever grateful that the family are such good English speakers! It was an honour to be invited and to share with the families at this special time.

Posted by Valfowles 14:54 Tagged palestine Comments (0)

Corinth to Nablus

via Athens and Porto Rafti

storm 24 °C

Corinth to Nablus
Taxi ride via the Corinth canal to the station. A canal was proposed as early as 7BC the idea was abandoned in favour of a portage road, the Diolkos, where the boats were hauled overland for about 8Km. The Romans then had ago but it wasn’t finished until 1881 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corinth_Canal.
The train took us to Athens airport and a taxi transfer to the hotel. We were planning a swim in the sea but it was far too windy. The journey’s entertainment was trying to organise a rendezvous with Clare a friend of Val’s from school days , who just happened to be sailing in the area. They had been moored in the bay a few days before but we missed each other by a whisker and it was too windy for them to “retrace their tacks”!
The next morning we flew out of Athens and arrived in Tel Aviv by 9:30. Superfast entry to Israel with no questions asked. We took the Sherut ( shared taxi in Hebrew, it is a minibus and does not operate to a timetable, leaving when all seats are taken) to The Damascus gate in Jerusalem. A quick stop for refreshment and for Val to change into more modest clothing ( you know how immodest I usually am!) and we were in the queue ( crush! ) for the bus (18) to Ramallah, actually we joined 3 crushes before getting a seat but we were lucky as we managed a seat on an air conditioned coach.

We passed the familiar sites and it felt good to be there; Garden Tomb, St Georges Cathedral, 2c77df30-df72-11e9-9320-89f62feee7d9.jpg
American Colony, Hellen Keller school for the blind. Soon were at the checkpoint, no searches for us but the delays to traffic are huge ,its chaotic.
A change of bus in Ramallah and onto Nablus. A windy road through the Olive clad mountains,
a glimpse of some shepherds ( by chance this photo snap shows him praying, I think).
The illegal settlements have become more established since I was here in 2014 and the road closures are having a huge impact on the ability of the locals to travel from city to city within the West Bank.
Roads are closed to Palestinians allowing the settlers to travel with ease, so our journey of 41 miles took us just over 4 hours. Our journey of 33 miles from the airport to Jerusalem (Israel not Palestinian territory) was approximately 40 mins.
Alighting from the bus we were immediately welcomed by a passing local who ensured we knew the way to our guest house, a short walk int the Old City, past the Kanafeh shop and the soap factory and we arrived at the lovely Soufan Guest House. https://www.booking.com/hotel/ps/soufan-guest-house.html


Posted by Valfowles 22:47 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Bari and Ferry to Greece

semi-overcast 26 °C

We spent a happy day swimming in the sea, eating drinking and reading on the beach. Its the end of the main tourist season in Italy but still in the high 20's, so fine for us Brits!

The next day we donned the rucksacks ( in a thunderstorm!) and took the bus to the ferry terminal. We used left luggage again and set off to explore the old City of Bari with its winding narrow streets, old churches and a Basilica , hand made pasta drying outside the houses, ancient port and fishing boats. A delightful place to stroll. It is rather a maze of streets and alleys, my watch told me that in the old city we had we walked 9.5 km!

Then back to the ferry terminal to collect the luggage and board the boat, only we had left the luggage at the wrong terminal, meaning another walk adding to the kms walked in the old town. We weren't the only ones who made that mistake so we walked in a crowd of mainly "20 something" backpackers with incredibly long legs!

The boat journey of about 18 hours was calm and restful. The ferry was busy with quite a few people sleeping on the decks or in the lounge, (we had booked a cabin) and a large party of Russian Orthodox tourists and priests. Turns out that the cathedral in Bari, San Nikolas, is an important place of pilgrimage for the Russian Orthodox and that the budget route is via Corfu. Our boat stopped at Corfu at 4 am, I didn't leave my bunk to look for the Durrells, but when we awoke the ferry had half emptied and so we were able to enjoy a very peaceful sail to Patras.

Fending off the awaiting taxi drivers we took the bus from the port, right outside the terminal, to the central bus station (1 Euro). All very civilised!
One of our fellow travellers had also taken the train from London, but without breaking her journey. She was arriving in Greece on Friday morning having left London on Wednesday afternoon.

The bus station was heaving, certainly not like in above photo, but we found an English speaker at the information desk, who redirected us to the train station, where eventually, with some haggling and smiling, we secured seats on the next bus that was operating as a rail replacement! That is complicated enough in the UK in English let alone in Patras in Greek! 1.5 hours later we were at Kiato station and on the train to Corinth. By 5:30 we were walking in the footsteps of Paul in ancient Corinth.
This is one of the places that Paul was hauled in front of the authorities. As the sun set over this ancient site I considered how brave Paul had been. He was not afraid to speak his opinion and stand out from the crowd. Not quite the same, but this is a day when young people all over the world are taking action on climate change. Challenging the status quo...

Posted by Valfowles 12:57 Archived in Greece Tagged corinth Comments (0)

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