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First view of the Western Wall and Plaza

First view of the Western Wall and Plaza

View from the women's side of the Plaza

View from the women’s side of the Plaza

The Western Wall, or the Kotel, or the Wailing Wall

(Note: this is a longish article—I really wanted to try and understand this complex subject)

What is special about the Western Wall? The wall has withstood time and has witnessed war and peace. I am not Jewish, and I have not visited Israel before, so I wanted to try and understand the significance of this wall, which is the most visited site in Israel today.

(For other sights in Jerusalem, I’ll post another article later).

In order to understand what the Western Wall is, we need to go back three thousand or so years. Long before a temple was built on this mount, Abraham came here to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Jacob slept here, dreaming of a ladder to heaven. Then called Mount Moriah, its summit was where Solomon built the First Temple on the land that his father King David bought from Aravnah, the Jebusite, 3,000 years ago.

Diagram of old Temple

Diagram of old Temple

The Temple stood for around 500 years, until it was destroyed by the Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The Holy Ark and the Ten Commandments, which were in the Temple, vanished and the Jews were expelled from the land of Israel. They were allowed to return 70 years later and built the Second Temple.

Closer view of the Wall today

Closer view of the Wall today

King Herod (who ruled 37-4 BC) decided to rebuild that in 19 BC. He had a problem, though: the Temple was on the peak of a mountain where there was limited space. Herod, who was known for huge building projects (such as the port at Caesarea, and his palace at Masada), decided to build four massive supporting walls around the mountain and transform it into a level platform. Which he did, and built the next Temple on the new platform.

In 70 AD, during the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed.

After the rebellion, Jews were not allowed to return to the Temple mound and the Kotel (Western Wall) was the closest they could come to that area. The Western Wall is the most sacred, because the Temple (and its inner Holy of Holies) had been built closest to that wall. Since then, the Western Wall has been the center of Jewish belief. For Jews, touching the stones links them with their nation and heritage, and their long turbulent history.

Today, people from all over the world converge here, to see, to feel, to pray, and to wedge notes and requests between its timeless stones.

Bar Mitzvah. Taken by me from over the dividing wall

Bar Mitzvah. Taken by me from over the dividing wall

Women's side of the Plaza---note the women standing on chairs looking over!

Women’s side of the Plaza—note the women standing on chairs looking over!

What is the Western Wall Plaza?

This is the cleared area in front of part of the Western Wall, and is the setting for many national events, such as the Priests’ Blessing at Pesach and Sukkot, candle lighting at Channukah, swearing in of Israeli police and armed forces recruits, and Jerusalem Day ceremonies. It is also a popular place for bar and bat mitzvahs of young people from Israel and abroad. The Plaza today is part of an open synagogue, which is why men and women are separated like in many synagogues.

When we visited, there were two bar mitzvahs in progress, which the men in our party could easily see from their side of the divided plaza. However, the women could see too, as we could stand on a row of chairs and look over the wall! (This seemed a little incongruous to me in such a holy place!). Everyone should cover their heads, and if you don’t have a covering, then a volunteer group will give you one. There’s also a table when you can pick up a slip of paper and a pencil, to write a note to put into the wall.

Until about 700 years ago, the entire length of the Western Wall was accessible. Gradually, the city’s Mameluke and Muslim conquerors built up against it. Jews continued to pray at the wall and had to wind their way through narrow alleys to reach it. This ended in 1948 when Jordan occupied Jerusalem’s Old City and Jews were denied access to the wall. When Jerusalem was reunified in 1967 the plaza was cleared and Jews could again approach the wall, which became a symbol of national unity.

One of the large vaulted passage ways below today's Plaza and city streets

One of the large vaulted passage ways below today’s Plaza and city streets

Our guide, Shani Kotev, points out details on part of the tunnel wall

Our guide, Shani Kotev, points out details on part of the tunnel wall

Do we see the entire Western Wall from the plaza?

What one sees from the Prayer Plaza is actually only a small part (about one seventh) of one of the original four walls. About the same stretches to the right as you face the wall, and the rest to the left, into the Western Wall tunnels.

If you think that huge wall in the Prayer Plaza is impressive, then you will be astounded by what you see underground on the tunnel tour. You can only do this on a guided tour, which needs to be reserved in advance usually. I’m told that many tourists don’t know about this tour, which is a great shame, as it really does extend our knowledge and appreciation for this massive construction of Herod’s.

Our day tour, with guide Shani Kotev, included the tunnels luckily. The main tunnel is adjacent to the base of the Western Wall and is under buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem—residential neighborhoods built over ancient structures from the Second Temple period.

Below, we saw special bath houses for ritual cleaning, as the Jews of that time approached to pray at the wall. Even today, in the tunnel is a small synagogue at the closest physical point to the Holy of Holies where women come to pray.

Our host points out some of the masonry marks

Our host points out some of the masonry marks

The cistern underground today

The cistern underground today

We noted parts of Herod’s wall with massive stones, including the Western Stone. It is the largest stone in the wall, supposedly one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by humans without powered machinery. It is 45 ft long and between 11-15 ft wide with an estimated weight of 520 metric tons.

Note part of the market street that used to run along the wall and where Jesus may even have walked. At the northern part of the Western Wall, remains were found of a water channel that supplied water to the Temple Mount. The exact source of the channel is unknown but it passes through an underground pool/cistern called the Struthion Pool, which they think gathered rainwater.

Parts of the tunnel have concrete supports that reinforce the ancient streets above in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter. Visitors today leave the tunnel through the northern exit, which leads to the Via Dolorosa. This exit was specially created so visitors didn’t have to retrace their steps back to the entrance by the Prayer Plaza, and only opened in 1996 after much deadly protesting by Arabs. Still today, the entrance is only open during the day, due to security reasons, and a guard sits at the exit.

So much history is here, concentrated in one place, that it’s almost overwhelming. To do the Western Wall and tunnels tour you need about 2-3 hours, and then perhaps it’s a good time to find lunch in one of the small cafes dotted all over the market street area. We went to a hommos (hummus) place for falafel, hummus and pita bread, which was great.

See a good description here: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/WesternWallTunnels.html

glassesLuxembourg City: La Boucherie, 9 Place d’Armes, Luxembourg City

www.laboucherie.lu

We’d noted this place one afternoon as we strolled around the city—one of many places to eat around and close to the Place d’Armes, the center of the old city. The name gets your attention, and the black and white cow at the entrance catches your eye as do, when we were there just before Easter, some small branches decorated with painted Easter eggs. The menu looked good too—-and it was, when we returned that evening.

There’s seating downstairs and upstairs, which is where we opted to go. Upstairs also has seating for groups— up to about 8-10 it seems.

The décor is cheerful and fun—red and white with lots of mirrors and the cow motif everywhere; on the carpet, tablecloths, glasses, even their own salt and pepper shakers. It’s bright, and makes one feel cheerful, and the very pleasant waiter added to that. There are plaques on the wall, announcing the dates of opening of other Boucherie restaurants (mostly in France, but two in Phuket that we saw), so it seems to be a big chain.

entrance

insideA bit of the history here (in French): http://www.la-boucherie.fr/histoire/

Jacques Salmon created the first La Boucherie in France in 1974, and he picked the red and white color scheme and the cow motif. It became a franchise in 1996, and in 1997 the first international restaurants were opened in Switzerland and Thailand. By 2013, they’d expanded to more than 100 in France, and added various other international locations, such as Luxembourg City, Seattle and Washington DC.

We also wondered if the red and white color has any link to the famous tire bouchons in France. A bouchon is a type of restaurant found in Lyon, France, that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork. Compared to other forms of French cooking, the dishes are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat. The emphasis is not on haute cuisine, but rather on a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner. The tradition came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyons in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Rod M enjoys a kir

Rod M enjoys a kir

Rod M inside---mirrors and plaques

Rod M inside—mirrors and plaques

So, the type of cuisine offered here, plus the special atmosphere, do seem linked to the bouchons. But, I couldn’t find any particular reference to the color scheme, although I know we’ve been to a couple of bouchons in central France that did have a red and white color scheme.

No matter, really. It’s a great place, serving great food.

That night we opted for the duck breast, which was beautifully cooked and served, with fries and a side salad, and a sauce of choice. It was a large serving and more than sufficient, so we didn’t need entrees (appetizers) or desserts. The meat comes with a little plastic animal “flag”—pink for au point or medium, and brown for medium-well. Cute.

The restaurant seemed to be well patronized on the various levels, by people from many different places, and the waiters effortlessly switched between English and French. We’ll definitely return if we can.

Part of the conference group

Part of the conference group

We did in fact return the next night with people from the conference my husband was attending—a group of 9—and sat upstairs again and had the same waiter, who did a good job with a large group. The group had multiple varied dishes and drinks, and the waiter managed fine. Rod and I had kir, then rose wine. I had the chevre salad, which was excellent. Rod had the entrecote, with sauce and chips, which he also enjoyed.

So, all experiences good. Thumbs up!

View to the Helderberg Mountains

View to the Helderberg Mountains

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASouth Africa: Lourensford Wine Estate, nicknamed “Jewel of the Cape Winelands”

Open daily

http://www.lourensford.co.za

Founded in 1700, this lovely estate lies in the fertile bowl of the Helderberg Mountains on the outskirts of the town of Somerset West (but is listed under the Stellenbosch wine route). It was once part of Adriaan van der Stel’s Vergelegen Estate nearby, so it’s steeped in history and heritage but has also espoused ultra-modern wine technology.

It’s another lovely estate with extensive, beautifully-tended gardens, all with the backdrop of mountains. So gorgeously “Cape”—in fact, I’ve almost never seen other wine areas anywhere else in the world that look quite as lovely as this. Some are more dramatic (Switzerland), others vaster (France). Maybe it’s the combination of setting and the Cape-Dutch architecture—green nature and white buildings. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful and a great place to relax, soak in the outdoors, and enjoy world-class wines.

The old slave bell, from the days of the Cape Dutch traders

The old slave bell, from the days of the Cape Dutch traders

The Coffee Roasting Company

The Coffee Roasting Company

Lourensford is a very large estate that offers a lot for the visitor. There’s the Tasting Room with a mini cellar tour, plus the Millhouse Restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a shop, a pottery shop, an art gallery and a coffee roasting company, which is a whole other tasting experience. Plus, there are trails and walks through the vines and up into the foothills—in addition to rambling the Estate’s own gardens and emerald green lawns. They also cater for events—our nephew got married here and said the Estate people were pleasant to deal with.

Well worth a visit and we suggest you allocate many hours, as each part of the visit is very leisurely—don’t try to be in a rush.

They take their coffee tasting seriously!

They take their coffee tasting seriously!

coffeesign

Our multi-generational group enjoying coffee

Our multi-generational group enjoying coffee

Besides wine tasting, and eating in the restaurant (see an upcoming post), you should definitely visit the Coffee Roasting Company, open daily 9-5. They roast on site, giving the room that warm, smokey aroma of ground coffee. It sells coffee to go as well as being a small café, with some pastries, and a few gift items, like teas, coffees, chocolates, preserves, a few souvenirs, and lovely series of kids’ books called “In the Land of Kachoo”, about African animals. Many local people come here just for the coffee, to buy bags of coffee specially roasted to go, or to sip and savor coffee in the sun under a vine trellis or other fruit trees. That’s what we did late March, and it was a lovely outing for our multi-generational group.

The Art Gallery close to the Coffee Roasting Company is called Aleit & Is Art (the Aleit Hospitality Group makes a local beer on the premises—ABRU—which they sell at the Lourensford Market on Sundays).

The headless statue you see here is #3 (see below)

The headless statue you see here is #3 (see below)

Horse

Horse

In March the Gallery was hosting a special exhibition of outdoor sculptures, set up on the immaculate lawns. After enjoying our coffee we had fun walking around in the sun, identifying what the large outdoor figures were. They were all for sale, so maybe by now some lucky person can enjoy them at home or in another setting. The US $ and South Africa Rand exchange rate is roughly US$1=R11

Horse: “Let Loose”, by Florian Junge, R290,000 (roughly a bit less than $2900)

#1

#1

Number 1: “Indigenous”, by Marieke Prinsloo, cement, R76,900

#2

#2

Number 2: “Going and Staying”, by Pieter Robbetze, resin, R17,000

Number 3: I have called you by name, by Marieke Prinsloo, resin, R47,900

#4

#4

Number 4: “Elevation”, by Andre Stead, resin, R54,000

#4

#4

#5

#5

Number 5: “I want to be free”, by Uwe Pfaff, powder coated steel, R18,000

#5

#5

Hug A Tree To Honor Earth Day

I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

It’s Earth Day today (April 22)—the 45th anniversary of the start of Earth Day. Many groups and organizations are making a plea to the public to be aware of the environment and our earth and to think of ways to help it. Even Pope Francis gave an address today.

To honor the occasion, World Wildlife Fund is asking people to Hug A Tree, and send in pictures of the tree huggers, as a way to stand up for forests and to appreciate them more deeply. Taking care of our forests is certainly critical to taking care of the environment, so in that spirit I’m re-posting a previous article on the wonderful redwoods in northern California—where we hugged many trees!

One August a few years ago, my husband had a conference in Berkeley.

After the time in Berkeley, we had 8 free days and decided to explore parts of northern California. We visited little-known wineries, Lassen Volcanic National Park…and the amazing redwoods, which is what I’ll focus on here.

We rented a car from SFO International Airport (easy to get there on the BART) and set off north on Highway 1 over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and on highway 101 to the town of Willits, our night stop (at Old West Inn, and dinner at Al’s Redwood Room, with reasonably priced Thai-American food). It prides itself on being the Gateway to the Redwoods, which it is.

parksign

The board says it all: "Giant Tree"

The board says it all: “Giant Tree”

Next day we continued north on 101 to Arcata, just north of Eureka, where we spent 2 nights as our base to the famous redwoods (in the Quality Inn, just off the highway). We hadn’t realized until we began this drive that one of the best places to see the magnificent redwoods is in Humboldt State Park, along the Avenue of the Giants, as it’s known. The number and size of redwoods here equals that in the Redwood National Park farther north.

We left the highway at Phillipsville, between Willits and Arcata, and slowly savored the next 31 miles of the Avenue of the Giants, the old redwood highway, which winds through the groves of trees, the road sometimes so narrow there’s only room for one car and you feel as though you could stretch your arm out the window and touch one of the giants. Luckily, there are numerous stopping points and a couple of short walks where you can get out and actually touch, or hug, a tree if you wish. These trees are amazing, so big and so beautiful that they inspire wonder and it’s hard to find the right words to adequately describe them and the effect they have on the awe-struck visitors.

Redwood trees are earth’s largest living things and as we gazed upwards it’s easy to believe. Sequoias, in the same family,

We saw many Roosevelt elk

We saw many Roosevelt elk

are also enormous—-they are often more massive, with bigger trunks, but are not as tall as the redwoods. It’s worthwhile doing the ½-mile Founders Grove walk, which has a booklet explaining the forest features along the way. They introduce the walk: “You are entering an ancient forest. This nature trail will provide a glimpse into the past and a look into one of the greatest forests on earth.”

The next day we drove a little north of Arcata to the Redwood National Park, another delightful spot, for redwoods and also for viewing Roosevelt Elk (which we saw in abundance). A must-do is the one-mile loop Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, which also has an illustrated explanatory booklet. It winds through old-growth redwood forest and is a reminder of the extensive redwood forests that once covered the Pacific coast from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

We learned how intensive logging has reduced the forests drastically, and became stimulated to support efforts to conserve and preserve these giants, many thousands of years old. The day we were there, the grove was wreathed in a thick coastal fog, creating a truly mysterious, almost magical, feel, as the great, grey shapes appeared and disappeared.

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

There are no places to buy food in the park itself, but the little hamlet of Orick has a couple of cafes serving good diner-type food.

Back in the park, it’s also well worthwhile to drive along the Newton Scenic Parkway (the old redwood highway) to gaze and wonder again at these timeless giants, with a stop at the Big Tree Wayside. A short walk took us to the Big Tree, supposedly one of the most massive redwoods, with a height of 300+ feet and a 21-foot diameter. (To be honest, we felt we’d already seen bigger trees).

The 2 days walking amongst redwoods passed very quickly, but gave us a good introduction to these beautiful giants.

Take a look at my earlier article on Earth Day and its origins (written 5 years ago to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th year).

https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/earth-day-is-40-years-old/

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.

market4

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

Social Vignerons

Passion for sharing by Julien Miquel

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