Kittens are the key to my heart.
I am ready to explore more of the other side of the world again. Ticket, please!
This NEVER gets old.
“A DVD of Cool Runnings!!!”
“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”
Weeks 8 and most of 9. Hello, ASIA!
So, I decided to scrap blogging about Budapest (Week 6) because it was so long ago and I want to share about my 10-day journey to Israel and Turkey. Time is of the essence and I have to save a little bit of adventure for when I return. So, you will just have to wait to hear about Hungary in December!
I don’t even know where on earth to BEGIN! For some reason, I feel like this blog post is presenting itself as more of a chore than something I want to be doing right now; that is probably why I have been putting it off the past two weeks. But, I think it is because there is just so MUCH to say and I do not even know how to start and how to but into a single post all that I learned and saw during my time in the Middle East. I wish I could share every little detail!
Maybe once I begin typing, it will all start to flow more easily! Our fall 10-day break began on Thursday, October 13th, right after midterms finished. I spent the day packing, or at least postponing packing, and doing laundry. My two roommates left for their trips on Thursday evening, and I didn’t have to go to the airport until Friday morning, so I had the room to myself to piddle around, to enjoy having absolutely no schoolwork to do, and to jam out to music all day. I somehow managed to stay up till after 3 AM doing literally nothing of importance, and I had to be up at 6 AM to shower and get dressed, and be out the door by 7. (A major planning flaw on my part, because a good night’s sleep would elude me for the next few days.) So, on Friday morning, I finished packing (thank you, procrastination) and rode into the airport with a few other students. Some kids had flights that left in the late morning and so they needed to be there around 9AM. My group didn’t fly out till 6:30PM, so we had a very long day ahead of us in the Vienna airport.
The ten of us (Myself, Josh, Hailey, Julia, Rachael, John, Ben, Mary, Linda, and Christine) found the McDonalds in the airport and grabbed coffee (and chicken nuggets for me—not exactly the healthy breakfast) and I then proceeded to pass out with my head on the table in the dining area… until the McDonalds worker kicked us out and said I couldn’t sleep there -_- We found some moderately comfortable chairs to wait in and set up camp for the next 8 hours. We made sandwiches (Nutella, peanut butter and raspberry jelly were the available options), played guitar, attempted to sleep, and just chatted about the adventure that lay before us.
The time went by surprisingly quickly. Next thing I knew, we were through security, and boarding our plane to Turkey! We flew on Turkish airlines and I have never had such good airline food! (All of this global travel has made me realize how stingy American airline companies are!) Peanuts?! More like a 4 course meal and free wine!
The first flight went smoothly, and we landed in Turkey for a 1 hour and 45 minute layover. We got to our gate for our flight to Tel Aviv, and Julia and Hailey headed off to explore the airport. The rest of us plopped down on the floor with all of our bags and backpacks, only to realize that the airport had changed our departure gate. So, we took all of our baggage and made our way across the airport. Hailey and Julia were still gone; we expected that they would see a departure board and realize that the gate had changed. Nope. Boarding had started and still no Hailey or Julia! Our European cell phones didn’t work in Turkey or Israel, so we had no way of contacting them. Rachael happened to see them running through the airport to the original gate, so we were able to snag them and board just in time. It was tense moment…soooo, do we take their luggage with us or hide it behind this plant and hope they find it and catch the next flight?? We were lucky to apprehend them just in time! We got on the plane to Tel Aviv, only to be met with a late night snack! Turkish Airlines, you are incredible. We landed in Israel around 12:30AM on Saturday and we were picked up by a personal shuttle and driven to our hotel in Jerusalem.
They say that you don’t know a foreign country until you smell it. And how true that is! Walking outside into the Israel evening, it has a very distinct smell. I can’t put it into words, but I knew I was very far from home. We arrived in Jerusalem around 2AM or so. We stayed at the Casa Nova Pilgrim House in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. A tiny little tractor (Yes, a tractor…) carried all of our luggage for us and led us to our hotel, so we wouldn’t get completely lost. After hours in airports and on planes and buses, we all found the tractor to be rather humorous. “I am walking through the Old City of Jerusalem at 2 in the morning…being led my a farm vehicle. What is going on in my life?!” The rest of our group had arrived much earlier that day, so they had already checked in and were sound asleep. (There were 28 people in our group; oh, and a five-month old baby!) The ten of us crashed around 3 or so, and then had to be up at 6 AM again to start off the day!
Ah, I wish I could map out each day in detail with all of the incredible sights we saw and the amazing and humorous things that happened! Unfortunately, I could probably write a good-sized novel with all that happened! So, I’ll give a rather speedy rundown of all the places I was able to see each day and then I will tell you a little bit more about my favorite things. Normally, people take at least two weeks, if not more, to see everything in the Holy Land. We only had a week, so we were on a tight schedule. We had an incredible tour guide from Palestine named Iyad who kept us in check, time wise. We would have been totally lost without him! On Saturday-our first full day- we spent time in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We went to the Mount of Olives, where the Church of the Ascension is and the location of the first praying of the Our Father; Mount Zion where the house of Caiaphas is, (this is where they believed Christ was scourged and imprisoned), the upper room, the tomb of David, Gethsemane, and then to the West Bank (!) to see Bethlehem, where we visited the Nativity Church and the Shepherds’ field. It was an exhausting day, running on only 3 hours of sleep; I am pretty sure I feel asleep standing up a couple of times. But after experiencing so much of the culture and seeing so many important sights, I would have been content if I had to go home after that one day. It was just so incredible! Israel is unlike anything I have ever experienced: the food, the language, the religious/ political situation, the terrain. I mean everything.
We had lunch at a restaurant in the West Bank called the Shepherd’s Tent. We enjoyed fantastic humus, all sorts of dips and salsas, warm pita, grilled lamb, chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions, baklava, and Palestinian Hookah to top it all off! We ended the day by stopping at an Arab olive-wood shop to buy gifts and such. I slept very, very well that night!
Did I mention I was proposed to in Bethlehem? I’m running through the streets with Joe Goodwin, trying to catch up with my group; I had to stop because my sandal had broken and he had waited for me. As we were dodging through cars on the tiny street, getting honked at and being approached by locals selling their goods, one of the men selling water at a side vendor started talking to us. We smiled and said hello and we gave him the high fives he wanted and then kept moving. He followed after us and stopped Joe, saying, “She is beautiful, please, tell her that if she marries me, I will give her 2,000 camels as a gift!!!” He should have offered me shoes…then I would have said “Yes”!!
Sunday was spent in the areas surrounding Jerusalem. We went to Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea (one of my personal favorites) and Jericho. This is the view of the Dead Sea and Israel from the Mountain of Masada…
At the Dead Sea we were able to swim, or rather float (!), cover ourselves in the Dead Sea mud and look absolutely ridiculous! It was fantastic. I have never had so much fun at the beach before. We were was the lowest point on the Earth! 1,388 feet below sea level.
In Jericho (the oldest city in the world), we were able to meet some locals, see some ancient sights and drink fresh pomegranate juice. It was incredible, seeing such old buildings; just thinking about how long ago the city had been founded was mind-boggling. After Jericho, we finished off the day at the tomb of Lazareth. Then, some of us took an evening camel ride! :D What a day!
Monday was spent in the Old City of Jerusalem. We visited the Jewish Quarter, saw the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, and the place where they believe Christ was condemned, explored ancient Roman Cisterns, and walked the Via Delarosa while singing the stations of the cross; of course, we finished the day at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Best for last. You can really feel the tension between the Jews and the Muslims when at these old religious sights. The political and territorial situation is absolutely chaotic. The Dome of the Rock is actually controlled by the country of Jordan. Then the next thing I knew, I was at the Church of the Nativity of Mary, only a few hundred feet away from the Dome of the Rock, and I was suddenly in a French territory. Messy!
We were able to spend a good amount of time seeing all the different sights in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: Calvary, the tomb of Christ, etc. It is an incredibly odd and eclectic building. And, just to give you another idea of how crazy this city is: the Christians, the Greek Orthodox, and the Armenians all come to the Holy Sepulcher as a center of faith. A long time ago, no one could decide who should be in charge of the church. So, they gave the keys to the Muslims so that there wouldn’t be a feud between the three groups! So, for years now, the Muslims unlock the church every morning at 4AM and lock it up again at 7:30PM. Now, how is THAT for complicated? After dinner, we spent time shopping in the Christian Quarter and then hit the hay. Every night, I was in bed by 10 or so, at the latest, and up by 5:30 every morning! It was actually pretty nice!
It was on Sunday evening/ Monday that several people started to get incredibly sick. Something in the water and the food didn’t sit well with most people’s stomachs. I’ll spare you too many details but it was a nasty bug. The edited version: nausea accompanied by the chills, followed by sweating and back to chills again. So, three people in our group stayed in bed on Tuesday. Over the course of the week, more than half of the people in the group felt sick at one point or another. I was one of the few people who was lucky enough to not get sick, thank goodness!
Tuesday was a bit of a slower day. We started the day very early with mass at the tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulcher. Pretty amazing experience! After mass and breakfast, we set off; we traveled longer distances to see a few different sights, so we spent more time driving than usual, which was nice. I caught up on some much needed sleep during the rides. First, we went to Hebron-a city in the West Bank-where the tombs of Abraham, Rebecca, Jacob, and others are believed to be. Check it out:
The building that contains the tombs is half a mosque and half a synagogue. Tensions were high on Tuesday because it was the day of the prisoner swap between Palestine and Israel. So, there were guards everywhere with semiautomatics and tanks in the streets. Just to get into the Mosque and the Synagogue, you had to pass through security scanners and metal detectors. We got into the mosque without any problems. We tossed our shoes and the girls donned their head shawls. (It was incredibly interesting to get such a close look at the different world religions during this trip.)
Next, we made our way to the Jewish portion of the building. Our tour guide was unable to go into the synagogue with us, because he was not only a Christian, but also an Arab and a Palestinian. So we headed in on our own. Only about half of us made it inside before a Palestinian guard came up to us and told us to leave the synagogue. It was the only time on the trip when I truly didn’t feel safe. There was a bit of a disagreement between the head of our group and the guards. In the end, we were all escorted out of the synagogue by guards with machine guns.
I guess, since it was the last day of a Jewish feast week, the guards decided (a little too late) that they didn’t want us in the synagogue. We met back up with our tour guide in the center of town; he was talking rapidly in Arabic to a few of the guards on duty in the city. Next thing I know, we are being told to leave Hebron all together! Kicked out of a synagogue and a city, all in one day! Impressive, huh? We moved on and drove to Samaria to see Jacob’s Well and to have lunch in an authentic Samarian Restaurant. We stopped at some ancient Romanesque ruins after lunch and then got an inside look at a local olive press! The local Samarians showed us the ropes on making fresh olive oil. We then headed back to the hotel for our last evening at the Casa Nova in Jerusalem. Early in the morning we headed off towards Tiberius, where we would spend the last two nights of our trip.
Wednesday was another jam-packed day. We loaded up and left Jerusalem. First stop, Caesarea, an absolutely beautiful, ancient city built by Herod on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I wanted to drop out of school right then and there and move to Caesarea! We saw ruins of the original city and an ancient Roman aqueduct. We were able to play on the beach for a bit, too. (Not long enough, in my opinion.)
After Caesarea we stopped at Mount Carmel. We visited the church of Stella Maris at the top of the hill. There was an absolutely fantastic view of the Mediterranean from the church. Rather breathtaking. Next stop, Nazareth! We saw the church of the Annunciation and the workshop of St. Joseph and had some free time to explore a bit on our own and snag lunch. We finished off the day in Cana where we saw the sight of Jesus’ first miracle and then tried traditional pomegranate wine from the region. We ended the day with dinner at the hotel in Tiberius and a late night swim in the freezing cold pool!
Thursday was, unfortunately, our last full day in Israel. We woke up around 4:30 AM to get dressed and walk down to the beach to watch the sun rise on the Sea of Galilee! We played music on the beach while we waited and enjoyed quiet time to ourselves and to pray. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. After the sun rose, we had Mass on the beach and then went for a swim. The water was the perfect temperature for an early morning dip. We then went back to the hotel for breakfast and spent the whole day in the region of Galilee. We took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee and then headed to Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, and the Jordan River. While in Capernaum, we ran in to Fr. Terry, the president of my university! He was leading a group in the Holy Land at the same time and we just happened to bump into him. The world is so incredibly small sometimes!
After stopping for lunch, we drove to the region of Mount Tabor. Some of us chose to hike up the mountain, which took about 45 minutes or so. The view from the top was incredible! We could see all of Israel and even into Jordan. We visited the Church of the Transfiguration and then watched the sun set from the top of the mountain. I have never seen such a colorful sky! It was definitely a long day—up for the sunrise and still going after the sunset. We walked down Mt. Tabor, boarded the bus, and then I conked out till we arrived at the hotel.
We had dinner at the hotel in Tiberius and then stayed up talking for a few hours since it was our last night together. Most of us didn’t know one another very well before the trip, but by the time the week was coming to an end, we were like family!
The most incredible and also frightening realization I had on this trip was the reality of my mortality! But the whole trip was so eye opening and gave me such a unique view into what my religion really is all about. I will never see Catholicism the same way. I could not have asked for a better week: hardly any glitches, amazing company, unique culture, interesting people and new foods at every meal! And I would say I encountered myself a few times along the way, too. This was one of the best weeks of my short life! I feel forever changed.
Everyone had different flights at different times on Friday. It was a strange feeling, splitting up after our week together. The ten of us who traveled on the trip over all had the same returning flight because we had a stop in Istanbul, Turkey planned for the way home! But, to give my day visit to Turkey justice, I will have to dedicate a separate post to it. So don’t go too far, I’ll have that posted in the next day or so. Also, tales about Halloween to come as well!
This is me and Narik bonding in Cana (:
“With finger on her solemn lip,
Night hushed the shadowy earth.”
“I like a bit of mongrel myself, whether it’s a man or a dog; they’re the best for everyday.” -George Bernard Shaw
Energetic pooch in the English Gardens!
Okay, I am going to thoroughly confuse everyone. I am leaving for my ten day break in the morning and did not have time to write about my trip to Budapest (the weekend before last) AND Munich (this past weekend) before I left. So, since Munich was fresh in my mind, I will post that first. Then, when I get back you will get Budapest and the scoop on my adventures in the Middle East! Enjoy. [:
Week 7. München!
Well, returning to Gaming after a fantastic and obviously eventful trip to Hungary, the school week was definitely unwelcome. It was that dreaded week that happens to fall right before.. MIDTERMS. Study guides are flyin’ all over the place, students are running around like chickens with their heads cut off; oh, it was a mad frenzy at the Kartause! You could cut through the stress in the air with a knife, that’s how dense it was! It seems to be a heavily debated issue here in Austria: whether to travel the weekend before midterms or not. I couldn’t bring myself to run away too far and not study at all for midterms. But, I wasn’t about to stay cooped up in Austria all weekend! So, on Wednesday evening, my friend Bri and I faced off in the last flag football game of the regular season (my team won!) and then we ran to change and to speed pack. Then, hopped on the bus in Gaming to catch a train from Scheibbs, Austria to Munich! Or as the Germans say, “München”.
As we sat at the McDonalds (okay, we are not going to talk about the fact that I was in a McDonalds…) in the Pochlarn train station, waiting for our night train to arrive, a young French guy (Adrian) came up to Bri and I and just wanted to talk to us in English. He had studied in Australia to learn English and is now studying in Vienna so that he can learn German. But, he said that he liked English the best and was so excited to find people he could talk to! He even said that he liked American’s accents because we were easy to understand compared to the Irish and the Scots. Ha! I never thought anyone in the world thought Americans had nice accents. I think it’s the British who have the nice accents. It was cool to get the European youth’s perspective on America and studying abroad. Very eye opening! Europe is such a novelty for us, yet American culture is just as much of a novelty to the Europeans; I think it’s so funny, but I guess Europeans feel the same about us!
We arrived in Munich at 6:30 am (Zzzzzzz) and camped out in a coffee shop for an hour or so until the sun was up. We stopped by a hotel near the train station and snagged a map of the city and the metro system lines and then we were off!
I have never really had a desire to explore Germany; it borders Austria, and I always thought it had a very similar feel, culturally. But since we didn’t want to spend the whole weekend traveling, it seemed like a good idea for a quick trip. And how right we were! We were able to cruise through downtown on our way to Marienplatz, the main shopping and market center. Seeing the city filled with just sunlight and the pigeons and the occasional person setting up shop: it was so still and calm. It was a treat to really experience the city without the hustle and bustle of every day life.
So, we just enjoyed the walk, checked out some pretty neat, small local churches and of course, Frauenkirche, the main cathedral where you can see the devil’s footprint! Legend has it that, years ago in Munich, an architect was in the process of planning the construction of the catheral. This infuriated the devil, so he challenged the architect to build a church without windows. In those days, buildings without windows were considered pointless for there was no electricity at the time. However, the architect agreed to the challenge and continued on with the construction of the church. Upon its completion, the devil snuck into the vestibule to see the church and search for any windows. From the outside, there appeared to be none. So, the devil stood in the back of the church and looked ahead towards the high altar. And sure enough, there were no windows to be seen. He let out an evil laugh and stomped his foot in success and delight, and as a result, his foot left an imprint in the stone floor of the church. However, Satan did not know that he had been deceived! The architect saw through the devil’s trick and knew very well that a church with no windows would be no good to anyone. So, he designed the church in such a way that from the vestibule, you could not tell there were any windows; the church was constructed so that all of the pillars lined up perfectly to block the windows from sight. In addition, the high alter blocked the window at the far back wall of the church. The devil is said to be unable to enter into a church itself, so he would never be unable to see the windows from where he stood. Here is a picture of the church from where the devil stood: (the high alter has been taken out in the meantime.)
If the devil had taken even a single step forward into the church, he would have been able to see the first set of windows! So, the devil thought he had succeeded in preventing another church from being used, but he was double crossed by the architect! How is that for tricky?
So, after we explored for a bit, the shops started to open up and the outdoor market was in full “set-up” mode. I have never have seen so much delicious, colorful fruits and veggies..not to mention some strange, scary looking plants! I wanted to eat every berry in the place.
I was overjoyed to find baby cactuses at the market (: it was like I had a little piece of Texas with me in Germany!
The shopping in Munich was quite good. Always a bad thing for me -_- I could shop for days on end. We found a local artist with her work set up on the streets and bought some of her jewelry; then, we accidentally ended up on Munich’s version of 5th Avenue. Deffffinitely out of my price range. After exhausting the major sites of downtown, we took the metro to the English Gardens (don’t ask me why the English gardens are in Germany…) where they had this cool Chinese monument at the center of a beer garden… Yeah, it was as weird as it sounds.. And absolutely beautiful. It was about 4 in the afternoon by the time we arrived in the gardens. There were people all over the place! Walking, running, biking, families relaxing with kids and dogs playing all over. So, I plopped down on one of the huge open greens in a sunny spot and took a nice nap (:
It was incredibly refreshing after having been on the train all night. After the gardens, we took the metro back into downtown to catch dinner. Of course, being in Munich, it was absolutely crucial to eat at the Original Hofbrauhaus. I ordered fried pork sausage with sauerkraut and some sort of light, German beer, the name of which I cannot remember. But it was the best sausage I have ever eaten, not to mention the best beer! (And I normally don’t really like beer!) There was live music and lots of old men and women in their traditional German garb. People were there from all over the world, of all ages. It is really incredible, how the waiters at these restaurants in Europe sometimes speak 3 or 4 languages. Just to wait tables! I guess if you work in a restaurant like this, it makes a little more sense..
After a wonderful dinner, we strolled back through town to the metro station. I indulged in mango and raspberry gelato on the way: absolutely incredible. Definitely the best I have had so far. It has been years since I had Italian gelato so maybe my memory is flawed, but this was definitely up there! By the late evening, we were too pooped to go out on the town and see the nightlife having been up for over 14 hours, so we headed back to the train station and found some comfy chairs to nap in. It was definitely a slow couple hours as we waited for our night train back to Scheibbs. We had to make train transfers at 4:20 am and again at 5:00 am. And, in our spontaneous trip planning, we decided to reserve regular seats rather than a sleeper car. So trying to get sleep sitting upright for two nights in a row was a bit rough. We arrived in Scheibbs at 6am on Friday morning and caught the bus back to Gaming. We trudged in the rain from the bus stop back to the Kartause. The trip back was definitely tiresome, but our 17-hour speed tour of Munich was so worth the hassle! I fell into bed at 7 and woke up at 9:47am, leaving me 13 minutes to shower, get dressed and run off to my philosophy midterm review session! There was no slowin’ down to sleep, it was back to the grind!
I spent the remainder of the day attempting to read and reviwing for midterms. But who was I kidding?? Friday night studying? I think not! Instead, there was a “Mustachio Bashio” party! Entrance fee: the mustache style of your choice. I went for the curly, French ‘stache, goatee and hat (not to mention the obnoxious French accent.)
Having a mustache for the night definite beat studying the natural moral law! After a great evening, I went for a midnight bikeride, all the while singing songs from the sound of music at the top of my lungs.. I am sure the locals appreciated that. Yes, I was sober. (That one’s for you, Dad!) My friend Hailey and I then went on a late night exploration adventure in the Kartause..through few doors and a couple windows.. an illegal hallway.. and then we found the old Kartause wine cellar! Check out this bottle, Nineteen eighty-something:
The hotel is scary at night..especially when sneaking through dark, underground cellars.. 0_o
The remainder of the weekend consisted of much too much studying, lots of chocolate, little sleep and good classical music to keep me sane (Beethoven, all the way). Monday morning I had a Theology midterm and then yesterday I had my two philosophy midterms. Praise the Lord, I am finally done! I nailed all three of ‘em, too! Now, I am packing for Israel! I leave on Friday morning for ten days in Asia :D Wish me luck.
P.S. Can you tell that I got my new camera? This just became a photo album rather than a blog.. (:
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” –Ray Bradbury