Local time at Horbat Omrit, Israel

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day 1 redux

Met our noble leader at the airport and two students from Carthage. He waited for other arrivals and we traveled north with the students and another staff member in the dig's truck. All arrivals (there are about 15 of us) met for a hot dog supper tonight and we're off to an orientation at the dig tomorrow.

The Kibbutz is an island of greenery in a fairly barren landscape. John and I share a standard motel room with a kitchen. And wireless. Our room is the one on the end:

Day 1!

We're at the Ben Gurion Airport now, it's about 2 pm, we're waiting for our fellow diggers to arrive from Chicago. We just spent $30 for a sandwich and drink which appals us both. Then off for a 3 hour drive to the northern tip of Israel and Kibbutz Kfar Szold.

This morning on the drive over we stopped at the Arab village of Abu Ghosh to visit the crusader "chapel". Soon after it was built, it was taken over as an muslim school. 600 years later or so, in the late 1800s, the Ottomans gave it over to a French religious order. There was a French mass in progress when we entered which even I found a little inspiring.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Day -1

Bill mentioned our second frustrated attempt at visiting the Israel Museum, what he didn't mention was the way in which the whole road had been cleared so that George preceeded by half a dozen motor bikes, and in a convoy of 15 other vehicles could sweep through majestically while the rest of us were held back by police and army. There were no cheers from our group as he passed indeed when we were released by police I heard one woman remark "now we are a free people. As we hiked towards the museum we came across a group of about 50 or 60 soldiers armed to the teeth - just waiting for something to happen. Each day we've seen dozens of heavily armed police and soldiers; yesterday we actually saw a young couple in Tee shirts and jeans each carrying a sub-machine gun!!

Anyway the Islamic Art Museum was great - so sucks to you, George! We saw some beautiful Persian miniatures of religious subjects with intricate arab calligraphy, together with very beautiful pottery and glass with comples geomatric designs. I enjoyed this a lot.

After picking up our car we set off to meet my friends at a traditional Palestine restaurant. We ate outside starting with an array of salad dishes, including homus, toasted lumps of goat cheese, taboulet, a spicy chilli dish and many more. I followed this with a huge piece of leg of lamb served with rice. Delicious.

My friends who had been in the area for the last five years talked about their disgust at the way the Palestinians were treated. I expect we'll see something of this first hand if we go to Bethlehem with the group.

After luch, drove back home, lay round, drank and read. This is the life!!

Day -1

Our last full day here. In the morning we walked the 2 miles to the Israel Museum. Yesterday we had a wasted $50 cab ride because the museum was closed. After fruitless exploring all options our cab driver got us to the door but to no avail. I guess GWB was inside. So we pilgrimed our way down the Mount of Olives instead.

Today, on our way, we were stopped for a half-hour until a 50 car caravan passed, including 3 big black limos bearing small American flags. A bad omen. Sure enough the biggest museum in Israel was closed again. We doubted GWB was getting culture. Maybe Laura.

So we showed them: we hiked over to the Islamic Arts Museum.

Then off to the Hertz office in the suburbs since the street of the in-town office was closed due to security. We have wheels! We're off to the airport tomorrow to join our incoming crew with a stop at a crusader church in Abu Ghosh on the way.

A late lunch today with a friend of John's who is with the Canadian diplomatic mission to the West Bank. Already fascinating. He and his wife live in East Jerusalem and seem to have as little to do with the Israelis as possible. He works in Ramallah and she teaches in a Quaker school there. I'll try to impart a bit of conversation in later blogs but I made a big mistake: I told them about this blog so I can only hope they don't read it! (The beer we drank, brewed in the West Bank, has the motto: Drink our beer. Taste the revolution!) They promised us a great restaurant meal in Ramallah when we return if it can be arranged. Today we ate in an upscale palestinian restaurant just across the former Green Line. And today had a different perspective.
Didn't take my camera today so here's a picture of John in front of the restaurant where we ate yesterday. Our Canadian diplomat suprised us today by the confirming the great reputation of Abu Shukri's hummus:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day -2

A warm day today, but a cold front has it chilly tonight and cool tomorrow.

We spent the morning doing a rampart walk, moving along the top of the walls, halfway around the city. From there you see all the residential areas usually blocked from view. We passed 3 full basketball courts and a soccer field. When we passed a playground I thought of Helen so here's a video taken from the walls of Jerusalem:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day -3

Overcast, hot and humid - a real effort to keep going by late afternoon. Both Bill and I were on the point of dozing off at times during the afternoon.

Nevertheless, a very enjoyable day. Superb lunch at the Armenian Cafe in Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Road (if you're ever there). We ate Armenian Pizza - a piece of flat bread with a thin coating of meat on which you placed a couple of slices of tomato and cucumber. Very nice, it was. I followed this with a Jerusalem mixed grill - small pices of chicken coated in spices and mixed in with lots of grilled vegetables again delicious. All this was washed down with Macabee beer at a cost of $25.

In the afternoon we spent most of the time in the Israel Museum looking at exhibits showing the history of the whole area from the year dot through to today. After all my reading over the past few months, I feel I've finally got the start of a framework in the subject, so this visit helped to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

No sign of Bush although we had helicopters droning over the city all day and we saw lots of army youths strolling round with machine guns at the ready- this on the streets and in the markets. We couldn't decide whether this made us feel safer or less safe!

Day -3

Hope you noticed that we'll now get an occasional entry from my roomie John. (See photo below)

It's getting warmer here but we still hiked around like madmen. Started off with a tour of arab East Jerusalem. We passed the US Consolate (no one is getting in there unannounced) and St. George's Anglican cathedral. No tea and crumpets. Found a great bookstore that has practically every English language book written by or about arabs. On to the Rockefeller Museum where all the loot (er, finds) of archaeologists in the 20s, 30s and 40s is on display.

Lunch in the Armenian Tavern with some great lamb:

On to Herod's palace in the afternoon and then back to relax a little and eat some of those fresh dates we bought today.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day -4

Back in Jerusalem after over 40 years, the smells of the market instantly brought back memories of that earlier visit. Lots more tourists this time, but organized into parties with guides. We spent the day meeting up or avoiding the same few groups - mostly Americans!!

In the heat of the day we looked at many of the major tourist sites. For me the highlights were the Dome of the Rock - absolutely fantastic tiles, mainly deep blue and contrasting brilliantly with the gold of the dome; the archaeological museum which showed some excellent videos of what the area must have looked like in Roman times and I really enjoyed just wandering through the old city and along the Via Dolorosa.

I noticed stray (feral?) cats everywhere in the market - not fat, not scrawny, but rather unkempt and definitely afraid of people - makes you wonder what happens to them!!

Drank lots of coffee in the markets. It comes as Turkish coffee, made with cardamom and a thick sludge at the bottom. Very nice much better than Timmy's.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher was packed with tourist parties, so many that it was difficult to move around. I felt sorry for the many people I'd spoken to for whom this was expected to be one of the highlights of their visit to the Holy Land - there was no atmosphere. I don't think anyone could have a religious experience under circumstances like that! We made a quick circuit of the place then out fast!

Signing off now to hit town for the evening. Don't know what tomorrow will be like to Bush in town!!

Day -4

Today was a day spent being a tourist. We walked and walked about the old (walled) city of Jerusalem. I'll post a picture or two and description over the following weeks. A highlight though was a retired jewish woman (American) we met at lunch. She lives in NYC and Florida so nothing unusual yet. "Are you being a tourist?", we ask. "No, I'm here as a volunteer," she says.

Turns out she's here as a volunteer for the Israeli military! For 3 weeks she lived on an army base and helped with communications. She said they do need the extra help, and, yes, the military is on a higher alert over Lebanon.

The first picture is the Cotton Merchants Street. 40,000 people live in the walled city, mostly Arab, so a great many shops are aimed at them, like these clothing shops on this side street. The 2nd picture is of a coffee shop on that street where 2 arab (boiled, not espresso) coffees are being prepared for us. Notice all the carrots and carrot juicer. I should have ordered that!

I forgot to mention that yesterday we walked by the Sbarro Pizza that a suicide bomber blew up 7 years ago. I was in Israel then (up north).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Day -5

After a long, uninteresting flight I met up with John at the airport and we went through rush hour traffic to get to Jerusalem. Didn't get in until about 7pm.

We knew we had a basement apartment but wow! It's really an old cistern, a very deep cistern. 36 steps from ground level down with 2 balcony levels along the way. The only window is a ground-level skylight that allows anyone see all that we do. Though we are a long way down.

After we settled and the landlord showed John where he could buy some beer, we went off exploring. We landed on swinging Ben Yahuda Street, a pedestrian mall really, and had some falafal and espresso. The street was packed on a Monday night. Off tomorrow for some real exploring. Oh yes, Hertz says their city rental office will be closed all week due to the visit of W, who's staying nearby. I'll have to take a taxi out to the suburbs to pick up our rental. And I made my first Skype call back to the states. Easy as pie and only cost pennies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day -6

700 of some of the best minds in the world are going to be in Jerusalem this coming week. Make that 701...