Posts Tagged ‘ancient’

York: Part Two

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014


The entirety of a day lay before me, the whole of a city yet to be explored was my wondrous opportunity, so with feet to the cobblestones that lined these streets I set out to conquer every avenue in York.


The town was wondrously fairytale-like with banners of flags draped across courtyards bringing color to the old buildings that appeared on every street corner. IMG_3706

I felt like no matter where I wandered there was some mysterious building calling my attention away. With no object except exploration in mind, there is so much to discover in a place such as York because everything is new, yet old at the same time. I think in some small way I loved York deeply because it made me feel like how I felt while in Rome; like anything was possible in a world caught between the old and the new of infinite wonders. IMG_3711

After a small jaunt of aimless wandering I made my way to the Museum Garden Park, which is a wonderful little area along the river that is lined with museums, flowers, and ruins standing tall and monolithically pervading over all who passed in the shadow it cast on the green lawns. There were people everywhere lounging laughing, and soaking up the good weather cast down by the sun’s rays.





I spent a while walking around the ruins, looking into ancient fortress walls and towers left behind by the mercy of time.

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When I returned to the main part of the park area I was surprised to see a birds of prey exhibit, which meant that there was a tent where a bunch of huge birds and small ones where on display. IMG_3757

This little guy was probably my favorite, he had a lot of energy and wanted nothing to do with his perch.


The owl was the funniest and I actually got to hold him, which was really incredible yet scary because he was not exactly pleased to be so surrounded by people. IMG_3778

He was very vocal as well, constantly screeching and reeling his head around to stare down some innocent passerby.



This little one with the big dark eyes was absolutely silent, he watched quietly all of the people without the slightest sound as his loud companion, the great horned owl squawked up a storm. IMG_3796

After enjoying the birds, I returned to the famous walls of York to take a walk around the city to observe the center from the outside. IMG_3842

It seemed like from almost every angle on the wall you could see the impressive spires of York Minster peeking out from behind brick buildings or through tree branches covered in small blossoms.




I loved every little street or alley way I wandered down, everything was so incredibly quaint.IMG_3872 IMG_3879

I got to see some of the most historical places in York aside from its ancient walls, like these white houses below which are the oldest buildings in York. IMG_3886

Also an incredible old church with box style pews and crooked floors where the dead where buried under each slab of stone. IMG_3889

After getting to see all of these sights I stopped for a quick lunch break and got my first taste of fish n’ chips at a lovely little place with the biggest portions ever. IMG_3891

With a trough like box full of fries and fried fish I sat in a cute courtyard surrounded by little ice cream vendors with a direct line of sight to York Minster looming in the distance. IMG_3897


Next on my agenda were the famous York Shambles, a small area with crooked leaning houses looming over a cobblestone street lined with adorable shops. But while taking a short break, wherein I talked randomly with an elderly woman about her garden and her children, I got to take in the sights of the market just outside of the shambles. IMG_3941

The Shambles where like every picture in a story book of England I had ever seen before, and they were maybe my favorite thing in York. IMG_3917

It was a small street, but I wandered up and down it again feeling like I was strolling through a story book trying to understand when exactly my life became a fairy tale. It is a strange thing to realize that suddenly you are leading a life that is everything you had hoped it would be, but you still cannot really believe that life truly belongs to you.  IMG_3926



After my breath taking time in the Shambles I returned to the garden area to see that the birds of prey were now released from their perches and where casually hopping around on the grass freely. There was a exhibit going on where the bird keepers where showing off the skills of the birds and it was pretty fun to watch, like the low flying skill of the Great Horned Owl. IMG_3968

Or the diving and swooping of an Arizona Kestrel Hawk snatching food from the keeper’s hand in a flash of feathers.


The rest of my time in York was spent wandering up and down every street that I could find, weaving my way across the fabric of this wonderful little place. IMG_3950



Finally I made my way to my last stop of the day, York Minster, the towering cathedral that is the most impressive sight in York aside from its walls. IMG_3953

I had decided to go to an evening song service, so instead of going inside I marvel at the exterior and then decided to get some afternoon tea to kill time until the service. IMG_3815



I stopped to get some good ol’ tea and scones with clotted cream and jam since I had already had the classic fish n’ chips I figured why not go for all of the english classics? The waiter was super nice and I stayed in the tea shop for about an hour and a half just savoring the peacefulness of tea and the view of the Minster right outside of the window lined with colorful flowers.IMG_3981

When the time came I left behind my new friends at the tea shop and went to the cathedral for service.


The inside was massively impressive but I wasn’t really supposed to take pictures because I hadn’t paid to get in since I was attending a service which is free. There was a majestic beauty in the immense stain glass and the high arching stone of the interior that matched the exterior I had been marveling at all day from afar. IMG_3991

The service was beautiful and the surroundings unbelievable, I was sad to have to leave by the end.


The bells of the church, the song of the choir still ringing in my ears as I boarded my train back to my temporary home outside of London was a perfect way to conclude my time in York. The entire train ride back I marveled at how incredibly lucky I am to be able to see the things I saw. The sun descended behind the train as we rocketed homeward, closing the final light on my adventure to York, but as I closed my eyes that night back in my bed, I knew it only meant there would be a new adventure tomorrow.



The Colossus that is Rome

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

For my Ancient Roman Civilization class we had a couple of days where we did for our site visits some of the biggest and best of Rome, the things everyone from around the world comes to Rome to see. We saw the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. IMG_0562 IMG_0623 IMG_0620

The doors of ancient temples, the archways of triumphant emperors, the fallen columns of once grand corridors, lie all around us in the Forum Valley.

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Moving up from the Roman Forum, we climbed to the Palatine Hill where back in 753 B.C. Rome was founded on the place where the twins Romulus and Remus were washed ashore after escaping near death to be nursed back to health by a wolf who saved their lives. This hilltop, riddled with the remains of Royal Imperial Palaces and the luxurious buildings that the biggest people of Roman history once lounged in and walked around.IMG_0660

It also had a fantastic view overlooking the Roman Forum and the rest of Rome, the buildings the color of the dawn rising and falling like the rolls of the tide.IMG_0663

Ivy covered buildings, plant covered terraces, and monuments of the Colossus that is Rome rising from the ground in every direction you can turn.

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Even the Vatican sits far in the distance, the dome of St. Peters visible from its perch far away from the Forum.

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The entire class sat and listen to the lecture about the places we had seen, were seeing, and were about to see. Sitting basically in the shade of Colosseum we were looking back and forth between the Colosseum and one of the biggest temples of ancient Rome dedicated to Roma and Venus.

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It was super strange finally going into the Colosseum, I had waited all semester for this site visit, knowing that we would see it eventually for class, but finally here I was, standing under the barrel vaulted roofs of the corridors of the Colosseum with the hoards of tourists bustling about.

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The sights you see in movies, the images of postcards of Rome was standing before me suddenly and it did not seem real whatsoever. Walking around and around the Flavian Amphitheater taking in the view from every angle. Knowing that people travel from all over the world to see this place makes it feel very strange to be there, to look down at your feet and wonder how many stood there before you and would stand there after you had gone. This structure has stood for almost 2,000 years and people have walked these corridors for almost that entire time, how many feet, how many people have stood here before me. Thinking of the people sitting in these sloping stadium seats, watching the gladiatorial games, watching humans kill each other for sport, watching animals fight to the death, or watching mock battles to entertain the masses of a once massive empire. To stand at the feet of history and wander what your part in it might be is a strange and humbling experience.IMG_0733 IMG_0731 IMG_0729 IMG_0721 IMG_0714 IMG_0710 IMG_0706


This day was also just very strange because for so long I have looked at these monuments from the outside, never knowing what it looked like from the inside was something I had gotten really used to. I had become so accustomed to my one view point of things and to finally go inside these places, to see the Forum from within the pathways that are still lined with Basalt rocks that paved the ancient roman roadways. To walk the Via Sacra, the triumphal procession route that emperors and generals returning home successful campaigns stood where I stood. To see Rome from the Palatine Hill, where possibly Romulus once stood long before Rome became the wonder that it is today. Did he know? Did Romulus, the father of Rome, stand over his future empire and have any idea of what he little hut town would become? Could I stand there, where he once dwelled, and understand what it was that I was looking at?

Tomorrow I have my last final here in Rome which means I am done with my semester and standing on that Hill, standing on the Forum roads, standing in the Colosseum I still do not understand what it is I am seeing. I have been here for a whole semester and am still baffled every day by the wonders that are around every street corner. My time is going on and it is strange to be here in this eternal city, knowing, this city will continue on long after I leave as it has always continued on, eternal, changing but always the same. I will miss this deeply; Rome will remain the same, despite its decay, but I will never be the same.



Il Giorno dei Libri

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

As an English Literature major, and an avid lover of books, there is no paradise like that of sheltered haven of old books housed in a library with towering walls of ancient tomes and centuries old unopened pages. The other day I was in a book lover’s paradise. The name even seemed appropriate, Biblioteca Angelica, referring to the original collections owner Angelo, but to me it felt like a library of angels.


The Study Abroad Program I attend at the University of California Center in Rome has the ever fulfilling practice of site visits, wherein we the students get to go out into the wonders of Rome and have our lectures on site in many of the amazing places Rome has to offer up to those who seek its treasures. For one of my classes, Rome and Renaissance Literature, we had the pleasure of getting a mini little tour of Biblioteca Angelica and all of its centuries old wonders.


We were taken into the library and given a tour in Italian, which I was happy to discover I could understand almost everything she was saying. Our gracious host and guide through this wonderland of books, was kind enough to impart her extensive knowledge on the origins of the collection and its relation to the Church of St. Augustine, and the associated convent. The actual library itself, which is open to the public for study usage, and you know I will be back there in a heartbeat to study as soon as I can, was truly incredible. High ceilings, filled to the brim with walls of centuries old books, covering every inch of the walls, wrapped from top bottom and every corner of the building lined with beautiful tomes and books.


Standing in a library of old books is like standing in a sea of whispered words. Sinking into a warm abyss of aged pages, and words reaching out from paper to wrap and coil around your heart and mind like seaweed vines entwined around your being to bring you back to the books that sit silently, but softly calling your name. There is nothing more magical than a library filled with books spanning the great divide of time.IMG_8120

The library is from the 17th century, and many of it’s books are older than that. We were lucky enough to be brought down into another layer of the library where our host showed us some truly mazing treasures. She treated us to a handful of ancient books all from around the 1540’s that were just breath taking. There is something about a fragile binding, the browned pages thick and weighty to the touch, the gothic and italic scripts of printing press or a gifted hand that fills me with awe struck wonder. So much care went into these books, such dedication and time spent to create each one of these, and to think of how far they have come, and how long they have survived to end up in my hands at the very moment they were placed before me, today, this year, this life. It is amazing to think of the journeys that books take in their life time, not all of them are strong enough to weather the storm of time, but others are cared for or are lucky enough to be protected by the caring and cherishing embrace of a guardian. The stories that lie within the pages of these books, not just in the words on the page, but the stories and tales of time imbedded in the grain of the books, in every torn page or browned edge from the years that it lived and survived.


Looking carefully at each book placed before us, with eyes wide with wonder, the class beheld the books that beat back time to be with us in that very moment. IMG_8048

We had a selection of books placed before us, but the most notable for us and our class were three works we specifically had and would be going over in class. The poems from Pasquino, taken from the talking statue and published so that the voice of stone could be read more universally, the poems from the counter poetic contest established by Goritz under the statue of St. Anne and the Raphael fresco of Isaiah in the book Coryciana, and finally, the one that took my breath away, a really old copy of the Book of the Courtier by Castiglione.

The Pasquillorum, pictured below was an amazing collection of poems posted on the statue of Pasquino. Pasquino is a statue near Piazza Navona that from the mid 15th century to the mid 16th century, people would use as a place to express their political, social, or any other sort of discontent in the form of poetry by attaching their writings to the base of the statue. The poetry would all be anonymous and take on the name of the statue as a sort of literary shield that allowed people to write anything and post it publicly without threat of punishment or censorship. The book we looked at was a collection of published poems that had been collected from the statue and put into a book. It was amazing to see the things we had been studying in our class come to life in these fragile old books. The words we had been reading on rough photocopied paper transformed into the elegant script of a 16th century book.


The other book that we got to see was an extremely old copy of the Book of the Courtier, or Il Libro del Cortigiano by Castiglione. The marble front cover, the old speckled pages, the ornate inside cover, and the script itself were all beautiful. To have read and studied this book, and now see it in its actual 16th century binding and creation was truly an experience. To feel its pages, the slight rise of the printed inky black words, the torn corners, or the fragile binding that took this book beyond literature into a historical work of art in preservation.


I was so grateful for that experience, and it was definitely my favorite site visit of the semester thus far, but then again as an English major I am always biased when it comes to books, especially really old ones. We left the library in a state of awe and contemplation, pulled back from the depths of that silent, warm worldly embrace back out into the noisy bustling world of Rome, like a person being born again into a strange and unnatural world. I almost turned around and went right back into the silent haven of books, but I had to keep going. To let all of the experience sink in I went and got coffee at the well known Sant’Eurstachio Cafe, where I sat outside on the bustling streets of the piazza, watching the world move on around me. Thinking about how different the world before my eyes was than the world inside of the books we had just looked at. And strangely enough, in many odd ways, the worlds, though vast different, didn’t actually seem too far from one another. I could see the lining, the black words in the outlines of every person that walked by, etched into the words that came out of all of their mouths, were the traces of the same words used in those books. It was an interesting time to sit and watch the world, wondering about all that had changed, but also all that had remained the same. IMG_8103


Israel: From the Desert to the Holy City

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The night spent in the goatskin tent felt like an eternity, even though we actually slept for about 3 hours total due to our late night jam session. The ground was hard, the air cold and thin, but even through this, it was still a great feeling to wake up and feel surrounded by new-found friends. It really was after that night that I think we all stopped being people on a trip and became friends.

6am. Wake up call. Everyone slowly and regrettably rolling out of their sleeping bags and wandering with blurry eyes toward the bathrooms to try to reassemble our appearances for the coming day. A sea of girls packed the small bathrooms brushing teeth, doing makeup, brushing hair, trying to find all the articles of our clothing; it really made the entire morning process of preparation seem a fool’s errand so early in the morning and with no space to get ready.

Eventually I gave up trying to prep myself to look slightly human again and realized it was a failed effort. The darkness we had woken up to slowly altered itself as the great fiery ball that is the sun slowly lifted itself up from its hiding place to peek over the sandy mountain tops. The sand under my feet, the sounds of the camels and donkeys, and the slow progression of people toward the breakfast area was interrupted when the sun revealed itself. Everyone around me stopped to watch its steady ascent. It was magnificent, bathing the desert land in light, cascading over sand dunes to fill the valley with light.

It was a wonderful morning to be alive.

Breakfast was in a big tent and was very welcomed. Great food, real fresh goat cheese, all assortments of bread and fresh eggs along with their amazing tea. The tea was much needed again because the long night in the cold and the lack of sleep had ruined my health and I felt terrible. It felt like someone set my throat on fire and I could barely speak at all. As we all sat at the table making fun of my hoarse voice and enjoying the awesome Bedouin breakfast I felt something hit me. Looking up I saw a  couple of birds perched in the ceiling rafters and realized to my horror that I had just been pooped on by a bird. Horrified and everyone else laughing, I tried to figure out how to save my only outfit I had for the entire day ahead. Luckily I was able to get a new shirt but it was just such a comically horrifying moment.

After breakfast we all headed back to the buses which were bathed in the sunrise’s glow as well to continue our journey onward.


At 7am we left camp and drove deeper into the desert valley winding our way past sand dunes on empty desert roads. We were headed to Masada, an isolated rock plateau atop a great desert mountain that overlooks the Dead Sea and the vast Judean Desert. This place was once the site of one of Herod’s great palaces which he greatly fortified, but fell under Roman siege ending with the tragic suicide of nearly a thousand jewish people to avoid enslavement at Roman hands. This tragic tale took place on top of this pillar of earth high above the desert earthen floor and we hiked up the Roman Ramp that had been built to over take the fortification


We hiked up in the shadow of the mountain, only seeing the sun bathed desert light peaking around the sides of the great mesa. Coming out between stone pillars, which were thousands of years old to the flatten plain where once a great palace stood, bathed in early morning sunshine, was an amazing sight to see.


Directly under the sun, even this early in the morning, had us all seeking out shade to learn more about this place.


We talked for a while about the history of this place and then set out to wander along the ruins of this ancient place.

The world felt silent from up there, so high above the valley of the Judean Desert, it was one of my favorite experiences on the entire trip. The hot breeze lifting the dusty sand of ancient worlds to twirl around us as we plodded along. It felt like God was in the breeze, suspended in the air all around us, caught between the bricks of each ruined building.


One amazing thing we went and saw was down some ancient worn steps into what used to be the water storage area; a great pit of a room with extremely high ceilings that we all walked down slanted steps to reach the bottom. Light poured in from the outside sunshine and illuminated the room in such a magical way, it was impossible not to feel awestruck.



I stayed behind and lingered there in the bottom of that pit, placed my hand on the square of light let in through the hole high above me. It was an amazing feeling to touch the smoothed out stone that everywhere else felt so cold and hard, but right there where the light touched the ancient wall, was warmed by the sun.

After leaving the water storage area we went back out onto the plateau where we all sat in a huge circle and just meditated for a short while. We sat in silence, just listening and feeling the Israeli sun on our faces. I touched the ground and felt the sand run through my fingers, dusting them with archaic remnants of the past. Listening to the wind brush past us, you could almost hear God whispering in your ear. The wind felt like the breath of God, escaping like a sigh across this place so high above the ground.

When we opened our eyes from the meditation each person had a little envelope from their loved ones before them. We had some free time to go be alone, contemplate, and read our letters wherever we pleased. I sat curled up in a nook of the archaic ruins facing over the cliff side into the canyons far below.


After I read my letter, I stood at the canyon’s edge and with a couple of other people, yelled over the sides of the plateau into the valleys below. Our voices were carried far away, filling the crevices of the canyons all around us. Lifted high by the wind, our voices rang out across the Judean Desert. It was crazy to see the power of our voices as they echoed around us.

Afterwards, before we descended via the Snake Path, which is a huge winding trial leading down the other side of the plateau, we all took a group picture, the first that included our lovely Israeli soldiers.



The descent, which most people take a cable car to avoid, was one of the longest hikes I have ever experienced  It took an eternity to reach the bottom, but it was still an amazing trail to hike down. Once at the bottom we ate lunch in a cafeteria area. I am willing to admit I actually ate McDonald’s, just see what it was like and to my great surprise it was actually good. It was nothing like McDonald’s in America, it felt like real food, real burgers, not gross tiny hamburgers. It was huge and really tasty. While we waited for our bus we all played a giant game of ninja and a new game we learned the previous night called Sheep-a-Sheep. It was hilarious and a great way to wrap up our time at Masada

The Dead Sea was our next stop and one many of has been highly anticipating the entire trip; a chance to float in the Dead Sea’s salty waters. This place is the lowest elevation in the entire world at 423 meters below sea level. So we all excitedly went to change into our bathing suits and ran down to the beach for a float. This experience was not at all what I expected it to be.


The color of the water was a beautiful green and blue, which contrasted wonderfully with the red and orange rocks on the shore. The first difficulty we encountered was actually getting into the water itself. It seems benign enough in the pictures, but what you don’t see in this picture are the salt deposits covering every rock, making sharp crystalline structures that just love to shred feet if you aren’t careful.


This is a more accurate display of what it looked like and felt like walking barefoot on these rocks and trying to make it into the water as waves were splashing against our wobbly legs. Once in the water and off our feet, which were now on fire from the salty water getting into the numerous cuts on our feet, we felt the bizarreness that is the Salt Sea.


Everything you hear about the Dead Sea is true; it is bizarrely salty. It feels like gravity has been reversed or you are floating on air. You have to float on your back and once you do it is such a weird experience. It feels like nothing you ever have felt before.


It was really very fun to paddle around and float with everyone out in the water.


However, the salt that makes the Dead Sea such a cool experience is also your worst enemy. The very first thing they told us getting off the bus was, whatever you do, don’t put your head under water or get water in your eyes or mouth. I don’t think I understood how very serious they were. Within moments of being out in the water my lips were covered in crusted salt and everyone could tell something was weird about the water. The water was slightly wavy and would splash little bits of the water on our faces and it burned, literally burned. You couldn’t rub the hurt from your eyes because your hand were covered in the water. There was nothing to do if you got even the tiniest splash on your face. People had to get back on shore and wash out their eyes in a serious way. Most people didn’t even stay in the water very long because the waves kept getting the salt in people’s’ eyes. After a short while everyone was out of the water with bloodied feet and burning eyes. The medic really had her hands full bandaging people’s feet.

It really is an amazing example of the beauty and danger of nature. It was extraordinarily beautiful and I am so glad I did it but everyone was pretty ready to get very far away from the water after only a short while.


We all ran to the showers to get the burning salt off and headed back to the bus with new battle wounds but satisfied in having this very cool, if not slightly disastrous experience. Once back on the bus one of our peers actually passed out because he got so dehydrated from the salt. It is funny looking back on how much of a disaster it actually was, but I don’t regret it for even a single moment.

Tired from the already really long day (remember we had been up since 6am after a 3am bed time) and having hiked in the heat, swam in the salt, we were all pretty exhausted. However we had no time to rest, Jerusalem, the Holy City was out next destination.

We arrived in Jerusalem on a hill that rose above Jerusalem and from it we could survey the whole city. At the overlook we were greeted with a huge welcoming party along with many other Birthright buses. There were drummers who gathered our attention by blowing on horns made out of actual horn. They began to sing and drum as everyone stood and watched; their shadows cast on the ground around their feet.



It didn’t take long for everyone to join in singing and dancing in a giant circle around the drummers a top a mountain that felt like the seat of the world in the holy city of Jerusalem.




After the short festivities were over, the dancing and singing stopped and we were officially welcomed to Israel and Jerusalem by the breaking of Challah and sharing it between every single one of us as we watched the sun set over Jerusalem.





To stand above the city of Jerusalem at last, after coming so far, and having seen so many things already, I could feel my heart expanding knowing: I had made it to Jerusalem. We could see the Dome of the Rock in the distance and the Western Wall (Kotel) along with all the winding labyrinthine streets that created the thatch work masterpiece that is this holy city.



The very first thing we did in Jerusalem was go and visit one of the expansive open air markets. It was a truly amazing experience. It is one of my all time favorite things to visit market places in destinations that I have never visited before because it provides such an intriguing glimpse into the actual essence of this newfound place.



We all split up with about an hours time to explore wherever we pleased throughout the giant market place, which was a series of intersecting streets about four streets wide. I split off with Plia and my friend Tia to explore. Since Plia, being from Israel and having visited this very same market several times,  knew exactly where to go, what to see, and what food to eat.



She was a fantastic guide and made the experience so much more special than it already was, being able to watch these Israeli natives communicate in Hebrew together. One of the very first things Plia showed us was Halva; an odd sesame snack that is kind of like a flaky fudge that has a large variety of flavors. This picture below which looks reminiscent of cheese is actually a large variety of flavors of Halva ranging from coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, poppy seed, orange, vanilla, and all kinds of flavors.



She even showed us this wonderful character, the Halva King who runs this stand. He is there almost every day wearing his little crown handing out samples of his Halva. It was so interesting and something I had never experienced. I loved Halva (I even brought back some with me to the United States) but it really is something you either love or hate. It is very difficult to relate it to anything I have ever had before, it is just Halva.



We wandered the streets of the market listening to the vendors yelling out about their wares, Plia occasionally translating so we could understand. Each stand was full of so many amazing things from pastries, to spices, to tea, or trail mixes. There were numerous candy stands selling all sorts of chocolates or suckers.





Plia took us a little off the beaten track and showed us her favorite place at the market; a tiny little coffee shop down one of the side alleyways which she said had some of the best hot chocolate around. It really was some amazing hot chocolate, all three of us got some and it was one of the richest things I have ever tasted. It had at least three little chocolate bars melting at the bottom fo the cup. It was nice having this brief little glimpse into her world.

As we were leaving the alleyway a tiny restaurant was handing out free samples and they basically chased us down trying to give us free food because they could tell we were americans. We finally agreed and the food was not only amazing but the people were hilarious. They asked us where we were from, both Tia and I said California and suddenly the owner just disappeared. We were a little confused and worried we had offended him when suddenly he comes running back and the speakers of the restaurant start blasting out Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was hilarious and I really wished we could have stayed and eaten there but we were running out of time. So we walked away from the market with Californication filling the market streets behind us.




It was a truly incredible experience and it felt like we really got a taste of life in Jerusalem. We all reluctantly came back together and late at night drove to our hotel which would be our home for the rest of the trip. The hotel was gigantic, called Rimonim (means pomegranate  but we were all too tired to really care. We got our new roommate assignments and went upstairs to sleep after one of the longest days of my life but also one of the best.



Israel: Mountains and Mysticism

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

In the early morning aftermath of our New Year’s Eve Party, everyone slowly emerged, none too happily at that. All of us with little sleep and bleary eyes. It was a hard time to be waking up at 6:30am when you didn’t go to bed until around 2am that morning. Regardless, we struggled out of bed and greeted the first day of the New Year with half-tempered smiles and curious minds for the day ahead.

We took the bus through Tiberias and wove our way up a mountain called Mt. Arbel.

The view from the top of this mountain was magnfiicent, though a little hazy, but still many things could be seen. The Sea of Galilee far below, our hotel in the distance, tiny towns speckling the hills, and lots of greenery. The wind blasting at our backs led us down to the way we would be following that would eventually take us to the ruins of an old fortress built into the mountainside.The descent was much more difficult than I had imagined and it felt like we were going down forever. We had to scramble down rocky cliff faces and at all times could see the countryside around us backed by the Sea of Galilee.

Eventually we made it though and came to a leveling out in our descent down Mt. Arbel where the cliffs now towered over us. Looking up at the cliffs you could see the ruins of what once had been windows, rooms, and a fortress in days long gone by.

Then we climbed up uneven stone stairs to enter into the old fortress that was crumbling but still grand. After going into the cliff dwellings, we descended the rest of the mountain. We all walked down the mountain in great contemplation, deciding not to talk with anyone, we all descended in utter silence except for the loud noise from the town below and the sound of the wind rushing past the mountainside. We went down the entire mountain until we reach the cities that just about an hour or so before hand had seemed tiny and extremely distant. It seemed remarkably to have come that far, to look back up at the whole mountain knowing I had been at the top of it. It felt like so much had been accomplished; and it was only 10am.

Next on our trip was the legendary cit of Tzfat, home to Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah. We wove through the streets of this old city, only stopping briefly before an old British Embassy building hat was riddled with bullet holes. It was in moments like this that Israel really did seem like an entirely different world. A world where it was casual to sit in the shade of a war torn building as if it was a wide shaded oak that we took a brief rest under in the bright afternoon.

Everywhere there are little moments where a single thing, a teapot, a doorway, or a bullet torn building that made this experience feel so surreal.

Tzfat is a city of alley ways, closed doors, and art. All fo the small corridors that people bustle down are lined with tables of jewelry, art, and all kinds of artisan creations. Every other doorway houses a gallery of beautiful art that often harkens back to Jewish mysticism.

After a long day of exploring the city streets of Tzfat, jumping between art galleries and trying out unique foods, we wandered through the market areas that tingled with the ideas of Jewish mysticism. After exploring a bit we found our way to the top of the mountain Tzfat is built upon. We stood in a park that held the ruins of an old citadel, long left to waste away under the pressure of time. It was here we learned about a Jewish idea, Tikkun Olam- repairing the world. Tikkun Olam is the idea that we all have a responsibility to try and fix the world we live in to make it a better place; whether that means doing community service, teaching, or any other form of helping the world, we have a responsibility  We came to this place to take part in our responsibility in trying to restore this old citadel by trying to re-establish this place as a park for the people of Tzfat.

As the sun set over Tzfat we all got together and learned a couple of songs on the mandolin and learned what it felt like to belong in a Jewish community. It really was an amazing moment; bathed in shades of pink and yellow, we all felt like a family.

It was a long day, started early, hiked, worked, explored, but it was a truly a great day.


Joshua Tree

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Joshua Tree in the eye of the beholder, the eye of the adventurer. My mom and I recently visited Joshua Tree National Park down by Palm Springs. A park full of rock pillars and sculptures and very odd looking trees that slightly resemble puffy cacti slapped on the ends of a scruffy looking tree trunk. Odd but intriguing plants.

The first thing we did was visit Barker’s Dam. It was a nice little hike out to a small lake and a very old looking dam.

Reflections truly are a beautiful thing, it always makes me wonder if there is always another mirror image of every single thing on earth, and we just don’t know it. I feel like reflections give us a brief glimpse of this other world of upsides and opposites. They are beautiful, especially with the rich blues and bright red rocks contrasting. It really is one of my favorite types of landscapes to shoot.

On our way back from the dam we visited a petroglyph site which was my favorite part of the trip. It was this big monolith of a rock with a dug out little alcove in it high above the ground where nestled inside were old cave drawings from native americans. I climbed up the rock and into the alcove to get a better look at them. Being so close to these old drawings was an awe inspiring experience. To feel so near history, to something so ancient that it is hard to fathom. It was remarkable, not to mention the scenery you could see from inside there.

After that we visited the Arch Rock which was a spectacular arch of red rock in a canyon of giant boulders. It was so cool to look around at this desert rocky landscape and photography it.

OVerall Joshua Tree was a very nice national park and the petroglyphs were definitely the best part. The cacti were pretty amazing as well. Another park down for the travel buddies.