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Jerusalem Market Streets

A narrow stepped street

A narrow stepped street

A market street

A market street

We enter old Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate (left)

We enter old Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate (left)

Note: This post is picture-heavy, but the place is so photogenic that it’s hard not to try and capture it all. Please go all the way to the end, to see the T-shirts!

On a day trip to Jerusalem you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking, and much of it will be along the narrow market streets on the way to the major historical sights.

Our guide for our day trip was Shani Kotev (shanikotev@gmail.com ). He was a very good guide, with an incredible knowledge about his subject: Jerusalem and its history, including all the other cultures and religions.

market3

A plaque on the wall indicates that this is some of the original paving from the time of Jesus Christ

A plaque on the wall indicates that this is some of the original paving from the time of Jesus Christ

We entered the old city through the Jaffa Gate, one of 7 gates into the city. Jerusalem has no port, so for thousands of years Jaffa was the naval gateway. Shani told us the story of Suleiman the Magnificent building this gate and huge walls around the city in 1538. He was so pleased with them that he never wanted an imitation, so he had the two constructors killed. They are buried just inside the walls and we saw the two graves, guarded by a soldier. These walls define the old city, which has traditionally been divided into four; the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim Quarters.

We wandered along many narrow, sloping or stepped market streets, the paving stones shiny with use and slippery from rain that morning. Some of the huge old paving stones are very old, even from the times when Jesus may have walked here—it’s quite an amazing feeling to realize that we may be treading on the very stones that famous people walked on so many years ago.

I think we would have initially got lost if on our own in this maze of interconnected alleyways, but Shani has obviously done this many times. Small stalls and shops line both sides of the alleys, some with a vaulted clear roof, selling all kinds of goods, from shoes, to clothes, to pomegranates, to small thorn crosses and thorn crowns. We saw fruit of all kinds, huge slabs of halva, bowls of nuts, suitcases, lots of religious items and icons, and gorgeous, brightly-colored fabrics.

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thorns

You can also stop to have freshly-squeezed juices or a glass of tea, and many small hummus (hommos) and falafel cafes are dotted around. We even saw a western-style coffee and pizza café. And what about the Holy Rock Café!

A colorful cafe

A colorful cafe

The Holy Rock Cafe

The Holy Rock Cafe

priestsIt’s fascinating. Vendors call out, “Come buy” or “Look, I have a good deal” or “Best price here.” Local women with head scarves carry small children, workers trundle gas tanks on a small trolley, and religious leaders were chatting at the top of some stairs by the 8th Station of the Cross.

Chicago Bulls, Palestine, SuperJew

Chicago Bulls, Palestine, SuperJew

What really caught our eyes too—and what our hosts kept stopping to point out to us—were the T-shirt stalls. There’s an amazing selection, some the usual “I Love Jerusalem” type, and many with a US sports team theme. But, there are many that are overtly political, often related to Israel’s relationship with the USA, and about Palestine. All making a very definite statement. None of our group bought any though!Tshirts3

Shani points out many T-shirts with a Palestine motif

Shani points out many T-shirts with a Palestine motif

Outdoor Art in Luxembourg

"Embrace" at Villa Vauban

“Embrace” at Villa Vauban

Luxembourg statues

As people probably know, I really like tracking down outdoor art in different places. I think it’s true that public art (which is often outdoors) is an important part of the cultural identity of a city or town, and it’s fun to find out what kinds of art a city will support.

Here are two that I found in Luxembourg City last week—these do not include any of the commemorative statues and plaques in that city, as I’ll cover those later.

The first one is in the garden of the Villa Vauban, now used as the Musee d’Art de la Ville de Luxembourg. It’s titled “Embrace”, or “Enlacement” (French), or “Umarmung” (German). Bronze, 1976/1991. The artist is Lucien Wercollier (1908-2002), a well-known Luxembourg sculptor, who has works displayed in many countries.

Villa Vauban

Villa Vauban

martyrsThe other work is in the garden in the Place des Martyrs (which has a lovely rose garden in summer), opposite the former headquarters of Arcelor/Mittal (1922), the worldwide biggest steel company—a very attractive building, now housing the Brazilian Embassy, I believe.

It is by well-known sculptor Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986), titled “Mother and Child“. It was acquired by the City of Luxembourg in 2000, with the help of a donation by the Savings Bank.

Both lovely in their own way, but also kinda similar in form, I think.

Moore's statue with the Arcelor/Mittal building beyond

Moore’s statue with the Arcelor/Mittal building beyond

Moore's "Mother and Child"

Moore’s “Mother and Child”

Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

Just about every country has their own ‘way of speaking’, their own special words, even when the most popularly spoken language is a common one (like English). South Africa is definitely one of those countries. We were in this wonderful country recently and thought it would be fun to give you a few ideas about these phrases and  how to speak English ‘South African Style’. These are some of the words/phrases that we find people in the US often get confused over.

Things you’ll probably hear (often) in South Africa:

Just now (in SA)—Sometime soon; Shortly.

Now now—Sooner than “just now”.

Howzit—Friendly greeting as in, “How is it going?

Play play—Pretend.

A leg of lamb for the braai

A leg of lamb for the braai—thanks Vera G

Boot—Trunk of your car.

Bonnet—Hood of your car

Robot—Traffic lights.

Petrol—Gasoline.

Braai —Barbecue.
 Having a braai is a favorite SA pastime

Hold thumbs—Cross your fingers that something will happen.

Make a plan—Somehow, we’ll make it work.

Lekker—Very nice.

Biscuits—Cookies

Self-explanatory!

Self-explanatory!

And some road signs:

Rumble strips

Traffic calming zone

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

One of the world’s first health resorts, the Dead Sea has a far from healthy future.

The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the River Jordan. It is actually a salt lake. It is 304m deep (997 ft), making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. In 2011 the salinity was measured at 34.2% (9.6 times as salty as the ocean), which makes it one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. However, since about 1950 the water level has dropped about 130 feet, and it’s estimated that now the level drops around 3 feet every year. It’s called the Dead Sea as its composition cannot support aquatic life. At 428 m (1407 ft) below sea level, it’s the lowest place in the world—a mind-boggling concept anyway, even before considering seas and salts.

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

As we drove from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, we passed a large board announcing “Sea Level” and then markers every so often, saying “minus 200m” for example. As we drove down, the landscape changed from groves of date palm trees and many vegetable tunnels to much drier and sandier with amazing rock formations. Some wild camels roam, and at a couple of petrol stations locals had camels, decked out ready for tourists. As we went along, it was really difficult to work out what’s Israel, what’s West Bank, what’s off-limits behind walls. Huge walls snake along the hills and the Israelis say they’ve helped cut crime etc. It’s hard even for the locals, such as Shani our Jerusalem guide, who lives on a kibbutz near the north-east part of the Dead Sea—Jericho is very close to his kibbutz but he’s not allowed to go there, because it’s in Zone A.

As we drove down, the guide explained that the Dead Sea is shrinking, for a combination of reasons: less rain,

A person floating in the Dead Sea

A person floating in the Dead Sea

less water coming in from the River Jordan (because of dams), less drainage into the Sea, and more evaporation, much linked to various salts extraction. We also had to go on a detour, to skirt a huge sinkhole, one of many that have appeared due to the change in the Dead Sea levels.

The sea is so dense with salts that it’s basically impossible to actually swim in it— you can just wade in and then float on your back. The weather was a little chilly and very windy when we were there, so I couldn’t actually get in and test it for myself. But we did dip our hands in— the water feels sort of thick and a bit oily. Strange.

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

Health benefits of the Dead Sea. It has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. In the Bible, it was a place of refuge for King David, and was one of the world’s first health resorts, for Herod the Great. It has supplied a variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification, to potash for fertilizer. People also use the salt and the minerals to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.

At the Dead Sea resort area of En Bokek, where the conference was held, is a cluster of high-rise resort hotels with spas and special pools, and a series of small malls with a variety of cafes and shops for the visitors. Many of the flyers and signs are in another language, besides the usual three of Hebrew, Arabic and English: Russian. Apparently they get lots of Russian tourists and visitors (although the numbers are down right now due to the dip in the Russian economy), some of whom come for medical tourism. Our one tour guide told us that some Russian medical insurances will even cover some of these treatments!

Dear Sea herbs for sale---note the Russian language too

Dead Sea herbs for sale—note the Russian language too

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Many of the shops sell all kinds of beauty and health products that have ingredients that come from the Dead Sea, and are supposedly very healthy—although one Israeli lady from the conference told me that there is very little empirical evidence to prove this claim. Supposedly, the salts are very good for skin ailments, like rashes, eczema and psoriasis, if you rub some of the water on the skin area. This very robust industry of salts, cosmetics, and creams etc is actually part of the problem affecting the health of the Dead Sea. There are conflicting interests between the tourist and industrial sectors and they are destroying what they depend on.

The local Regional Council, working with the Dead Sea Preservation

A typical shop sign

A typical shop sign

Government Company (with help from the Kingdom of Belgium and US Aid), is making an effort to try and stem this. They’ve set up information boards explaining the problems and have prepared a walking trail, on both sides of the Sea (Israel and Jordan), to help people appreciate unique natural features and heritage of the region (and then try to save it). I walked a bit of the trail and it’s fascinating to see what can grow here if it’s fostered, using the drip irrigation method. They say the desert landscapes of the Dead Sea have changed a lot over the last few decades, on both sides of the Sea, due to mismanagement of the Jordan River and Dead Sea ecosystems.

Greenery in En Boqeq

Greenery in En Boqeq

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

They also say that Israeli and Jordanian industries that intentionally aggravate the evaporation of water to harvest minerals are responsible for accelerating the yearly decline of the Dead Sea. Also, the evaporation process causes the annual accumulation of 20 cubic meters of salt residue at the bottom of the pools, which raises the seabed and water level, constantly threatening to flood the surrounding areas, especially in hotels and other infrastructures, like roads.

In short, a very real, serious problem. It’s a shame, as the area is gorgeous, and the Dead Sea such an unusual geographical feature.

The view from our hotel window---how gorgeous is that?

The view from our hotel window—how gorgeous is that?

 

 

Artist's sketch of the hippodrome in Roman times

Artist’s sketch of the hippodrome in Roman times

Ruins of the hippodrome today, unfortunately recently flooded by the Mediterranean

Ruins of the hippodrome today, unfortunately recently flooded by the Mediterranean

An animal panel, but note small human figures on the far right

An animal panel, but note small human figures on the far right

While touring in Caesarea, Israel, our guide Danny the Digger made a very interesting observation. We wandered through the ruins of the Roman city built by Herod the Great, including the hippodrome. On the lowest level of the seating stands, facing into the actual racing oval, Danny pointed out a series of mosaic panels with pictures. Many are animals, some are abstract. All are colorful and seemed designed to be seen by both the contestants and the viewers on the opposite side.

Danny mused that these might be the ancestors of our modern stadium advertising billboards. Fascinating concept! Seems like the Romans came up with everything.

An absract design

An absract design

animalcloser

Danny Hermann shows the group an inscription that mentions Pontius Pilate

Danny Hermann shows the group an inscription that mentions Pontius Pilate

Touring in Israel

Recently we were in Israel for a week and our hosts arranged a number of wonderful day trips. One was to Caesarea, the port city on the coast north of Tel Aviv that was largely built by King Herod the Great.

Our guide for our day trip to Caesarea was Danny Hermann, who calls himself Danny the Digger, as he is an archeologist. He started a PhD in archeology but didn’t finish as he got into guiding, and now he also teaches a course on tour guiding at a university.

Danny was a really good guide. He has an amazing amount of knowledge to impart and is passionate about his subject—the history and archeology of this land. He is Jewish, but talks equally easily about Christianity and the Islamic faith. He says he talks about biblical archeology, which is where you move from fiction to fact. We were very impressed as he handled a biggish group well; he stopped and waited for most people, spoke slowly and clearly and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. We would definitely recommend him.

Danny Hermann, info@DannyTheDigger.com, www.DannyTheDigger.com

Sarcophagus in Caesarea, Israel

Danny Hermann points out a feature on a sarcophagus

Danny Hermann points out a feature on a sarcophagus

Entrance to old Caesarea. Note the 3 languages---English, Arabic and Hebrew

Entrance to old Caesarea. Note the 3 languages—English, Arabic and Hebrew

Sarcophagus with garlands, whose carving was not completed

Sarcophagus with garlands, whose carving was not completed

Most of us have probably seen many examples of a sarcophagus (plural, sarcophagi) in museums around the world, and know that these are usually marble or stone above-ground burial coffins that were frequently used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. They were often elaborately embellished with some kind of sculpture and inscription.

When we were touring around old Caesarea in Israel recently we learned an interesting snippet of information from our guide Danny Hermann about the sarcophagi there.

 

Top of a sarcophagus that had been broken into (in spite of the Medusa head)

Top of a sarcophagus that had been broken into (in spite of the Medusa head)

Lady Medusa

Lady Medusa

Caesarea has had a long and complex history, part of which was rule by the Romans. King Herod built the port and named it after Caesar in Rome. We saw the remains of an arena, a hippodrome, Roman baths etc., and numerous sarcophagi. Danny Hermann explained that sarcophagus means “eater of flesh”. People at that time at first thought that if they placed a body in stone, the body would be protected from being eaten and from being robbed. Even though the dead body was placed in stone, when it came time to check the body, they found that the body had still been eaten (obviously by worms etc). So the story goes, that the coffin became known as a flesh eater. In addition, the coffins were often broken into and looted. So, those early people often carved the head of a Medusa on the coffin, for example, or other scary objects, to frighten off the eaters and the thieves.

Note other ruins of old Caesarea beyond the sarcophagus

Note other ruins of old Caesarea beyond the sarcophagus

But to no avail. The bodies still decomposed, and robbers still got in.

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