31 December 2011

Outside Tel Aviv: Jaffa

Jaffa is situated next to the Mediterranean Sea and is believed to be one of the oldest port cities in history. And this is where, if you are familiar with the Bible, the story of Jonah and his being swallowed by the whale took place. Jaffa was also the place where our 400+ group ventured out on our first official day. I'd never traveled with so many people (nor will I probably ever do so again, unless I go back to Israel!), but it was awesome! To be with so many people who you could consider family and to meet so many who are inspiring, passionate and who may become life-long friends. If you are part of a church, this is the best way to see Israel; you get the history in, but you get perspective and meaning and fellowship as well.

The city of Tel Aviv seen from Jaffa


30 December 2011

Tel Aviv: The Beach

When in Tel Aviv, you have to go down to the beach. It's calm and uncrowded (when I was there at least)...it was so bizarre to look out to the Mediterranean Sea from one of it's other sides - having previously seen its shores from Italy and France. Tel Aviv was similar enough to home that it was enjoyable and relaxing, but different enough to feel like an adventure.

29 December 2011

Tel Aviv: The Flea Market

Shalom, Israel! Ah, yes...we now arrive to my most favorite country/trip! As much as I absolutely fell in love with Ireland and Paris (and later, New Zealand!), Israel holds a special place in my heart - it's so unlike any other place you are likely to experience! There is an excitement in the air in this place where the major religions of the world find their most holy sites. The cities vary from the hip, party scene in Tel Aviv, to the ultra-religious and conflicted Jerusalem. Whereas most places are fascinating because of what has happened there in the past, Israel was fascinating not only because of the past, but also because of what will take place there in the future.  Finding myself in Israel was so exciting and thrilling - I had no idea what to expect...and a lot of times, it's better that way!

Before leaving for Israel, I had so many different reactions from people that I told about my trip. Many were excited - especially fellow Christians who have been before or at least know the significance of Israel. But most were surprised and were curious if it was safe or if I was worried I would be put in harm's way. First of all, I really felt led to go...I was meant to go! And as much as I'm very aware of safety, I also feel like if it's my time to go, it doesn't matter if I'm in the heart of Jerusalem or driving to work in California. As my stepdad has said - "I'm invincible until it's my time to go!" Second of all, I felt completely safe the entire time in Israel (although it completely depends on the current situation when you go and things can change in an instant), but I never felt worried in Israel. If anything, I was a bit nervous in Cairo.

But, alas - Tel Aviv! Our first taste of Israel, and if you're new to my blog, meet my fellow (immediate) travelers: (I say immediate because we traveled with a massive church group of around 400!)

That's me, Jade, on the left and travel partner-in-crime Christy

This is my stepdad, Ricky

16 December 2011

Egyptian Museum & Around Cairo

While in Egypt, you just have to visit Cairo's Egyptian Museum. This strikingly red (coral?) building houses some of the most extraordinary artifacts you might ever lay your eyes on. Inside, you will find King Tut's gold mask and coffin, jewelry, weapons and thrones that were buried with various Pharaohs of the past, mummies of men and mummies of animals, endless examples of hieroglyphics and more pottery than you could ever imagine. If you have a chance to get a guide, I would definitely recommend it as there is just so much to see here and what with the many shady people shiftily eyeing our group's purses and bags - it just feels more secure with a guide.

              Entrance to the Egyptian Museum               Some of the nice buildings surrounding the museum

15 December 2011

Cairo's Crazy Traffic

Apparently, there are around 20,000 car accidents each year in Cairo and it doesn't take long in this city to figure out why that might be... The traffic in Cairo is absolutely insane! We were told that you don't necessarily need a license in order to drive and that it is not unheard of for young teens to be driving around this already congested city. But when traffic laws are not enforced and violations can be bribed out of, it's no wonder the traffic is like it is. I'm just glad I didn't have to drive around Cairo and I could enjoy the insanity from the comfort of my passenger seat. Below are some examples of Cairo's peculiar road characteristics (I bet this has nothing on India!)

First day in Cairo, and we experienced a car accident first-hand

13 December 2011

Hanging Church in Historic Cairo

The Hanging Church in Old Cairo was a serene spot to spend the afternoon. This is one of the oldest and most famous Coptic churches in Egypt, dating back to the 3rd century AD. I have to say, the departure from all the Egyptian art and mosques was quite unexpected and visiting this Christian church and the Jewish synagogue, Ben Ezra, was beautiful and moving. I especially enjoyed all the detailed carvings, cut-outs and colorful scrollwork and the walls and arches inside the Hanging Church. The church had a lot of symbolic details that I loved as well, such as the twelve pillars that represented each of Jesus' disciples - most of the pillars being white, one being grey for Doubting Thomas and one being black for Judas. After seeing SO many churches and basilicas in Europe, it was incredible to discover churches in a whole new region of the world - and enlightening as well.

11 December 2011

Cairo's Citadel of Saladin

The Saladin Citadel of Cairo was probably the highlight of my trip to Egypt, surprisingly beating out the majestic wonder of the Pyramids of Giza. I've always loved visiting churches, including those of other religions. There's something quite beautiful in visiting a site where so many people are so devoted in what they believe. A place where people bring their hopes, their desperation, ... the most private pieces of their soul. I also love seeing the buildings themselves and, as I had never visited a mosque before, I was astounded by how magnificent it was on the inside! The architectural differences of the outside (the domes, minarets, etc.) was new and beautiful as well, but oh, the inside! The high ceilings, the abundance of lamps and color, the iron scrollwork and intricate carvings in the granite and marble. It was impressive, but the carpeted floors and the ability to find a little corner for yourself made it feel more welcoming.

Cairo's Citadel


10 December 2011

Sakkara and the Pyramid of Djoser

I really loved driving around the region of Sakkara, or Saqqara - seeing how vast desert was interrupted by a refreshing cluster of palm trees, which seemed to radiate against the never-ending golden sand. It was quite beautiful. I have to say though, after spending all day in the desert, in 95 degree F heat, I was just about done by the time I hit Sakkara. Desert heat really has a way of sucking all the life and energy out of you, making it so that to even move is asking quite a lot. But, don't get me wrong - I had a blast visiting our Sakkara Restaurant, watching the Egyptian ladies make fresh pita bread for our heat-exhausted group. I loved seeing the step pyramid of Djoser (constructed during the 27th century BC!  How many times in your life do you visit something that old?). The Pyramid of Djoser was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Egypt (and of course the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza, as well). Seeing so much in such a short period of time definitely sent me on sensory overload. Seeing some of the most famous sites in the world, being thrown into a culture you really have not experienced first-hand before, and throw in the heat factor - and it's no wonder I was speechless for most of the day!

Pyramid of Djoser

09 December 2011

Memphis Museum: An Altogether Different Museum Experience

Cairo has its fair share of museums, but I have to say, I really enjoyed visiting the Memphis Museum. It was a small museum, but a nice change of pace from those typical, stuffy buildings. It is almost entirely situated outside and thus, it feels like you are discovering these statues and artifacts for yourself. I couldn't help running my fingers over some of the stones with hieroglyphics etched into them (which you're not really supposed to do...) I had studied Egyptian art before - in college, but to find myself actually in front of Egyptian art IN Egypt is a mind-blowing experience. To be standing before a towering sculpture that has been preserved for so long is truly something special. There's not so much a quantity of art at the Memphis Museum, as there is a quality. You really get to spend time appreciating the artifacts without feeling rushed, which is a very rare experience in the museum world.

Fallen Ramses II statue

08 December 2011

Cairo, Unexpectedly: The Pyramids

And now, we move on to my travels through Egypt and Israel. This was a trip that I definitely was not planning on but it ended up working out perfectly. Originally my stepdad, Rick was going to go on this adventure by himself (and with our church and pastor), but once Christy and I got wind of it - we just couldn't pass up this opportunity. 2010 was the perfect time to go and sometimes spontaneous choices end up being the best choices!

So in February of 2010, Rick, Christy and I found ourselves in the Middle East - in Africa! (it feels weird to say that.) I have to say, Cairo was a HUGE culture shock for us (having only ever been to Mexico and Europe). We arrived late at night, yet the traffic was like rush hour in Los Angeles - it was crazy! It's not unheard of to see people, people on donkeys, horses, etc crossing a busy street - traffic laws are pretty much ignored - and the hotels we stayed in had a security check at the entrance. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, but I guess that's what makes it an adventure!

02 December 2011

Finally, Some Progress!

Today, Christy and I succeeded in sending off our applications for our Indian visas! The wheels are in motion and we have a tentative departure date in February. I'm excited and pretty nervous at the same time. So, as far as planning goes: our insurance is possibly picked out, plane ticket waiting on the Indian visa, and about $100 later, application for Indian visa sent out!

Numerous receipts later - our passports are sent out for visas!

In the meantime, I have accomplished a lot of the things I've been meaning to do now that I'm no longer working; Christy and I have been creating a plan of action for our travels, I've been blogging (soon I will be moving on to my Egypt/Israel travels of 2010), taking photos in my own backyard, going to church and just taking life one day at a time - doing whatever feels right that day. It's quite liberating!


27 November 2011

Travel Update: November

It's been a crazy past couple months, as touched on briefly here and here. And while I'm in the transition between writing about my European trip of 2008 and my Middle East trip of 2010, I thought I would write a little something about where I stand in my planning. So what have I accomplished in November? Not a whole lot...I'm just trying to take life day by day; trying to avoid a complete meltdown with the life-changing losses I've experienced in October/November. But I haven't accomplished nothing. I succeeded in some of the fun stuff: buying a point-and-shoot camera (maybe I'll have to debut it here soon) and a few SD cards. I've researched travel insurance a bit, but will need help from family friends as this stuff is completely over my head - what with deductibles, monthly rates, etc. I'm also planning on sending mine and Christy's passports off for Indian visas this next week and hopefully we can finally get ourselves to go to the travel clinic for our immunizations as well. This is the not-so-fun stuff that I hate spending money on - but it has to be done.

If you're curious, here is my list of things that need to get done before we leave (end of January/early February?). Slowly but surely, eh?


26 November 2011

My 7 Favorite Cities in Europe

There are so many dazzling, awe-inspiring places to visit in Europe, it can be so hard to decide on just a few destinations. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could pick only 7 cities that I would consider my favorites. This by no means is a list of the best cities, nor does it include some of the fabulous destinations that I am still dying to visit (Edinburgh, Barcelona, Prague - to name a few). This is simply a list of the places that captivated me the most, the places that still have a strong hold on my heart.

1. Lucerne


Ascending the nearby Mt. Pilatus remains one of the best days of my life. It was such a beautiful and spiritual experience to be surrounded by the heavens. It was a calming and healing experience for the soul to experience the world from this perspective. The actual city of Lucerne is absolutely charming as well and I fell in love with the Swiss people and customs. I seriously wanted to leave everything behind and just move to Lucerne for a while. That's still an idea...

25 November 2011

Versailles, in detail

To be honest, I wasn't sure I needed to revisit Versailles as I had been there four years ago. But I'm glad I did (seriously, I would go back anywhere that I've been ). Versailles is so grand and detailed, that it's impossible to truly see it all. And I'm really bad with remembering historical facts and figures, so a refresher is always welcome. Surprisingly, I did remember a lot about Versailles and how the rooms had looked, but this time there were two very big changes. First, the hall of mirrors had been under renovation in 2004 - in 2008 it was finished, shining and beautiful. That was the positive. Secondly, Versailles played host to an art exhibit by Jeff Koons (who I had studied in an modern art class). This wasn't necessarily a negative, but it definitely distracted from the palace itself and seemed very out of place. I'm still not really sure what that was all about.

The entrance of Versailles

                                                                                                                       ©CM

24 November 2011

A Day in Paris

I'm a bit of an art nerd (maybe that's why I didn't fit in with my study abroad peers...), so the Louvre is a place that sends me on sensory-overload. I've been here before - but who could ever say no to the Louvre? You could live in here for a year and probably not see everything. (I'm still determined to come back here and spend longer than two hours, or at least visit a few times in a week to see just a small percentage of what the Louvre holds.) Everyone always comes to see the same 10-20 pieces of art, but if you've been here before, perhaps get yourself a map and hit just a certain section of the museum that really interests you.

                                                                     ©CM                                                                                                          ©CM

23 November 2011

Paris at night

Paris comes alive at night. You know that magical, exciting feeling of Christmas when the lights line the streets and outline the houses? That's how Paris feels at night (can you imagine Paris at Christmas time?!). It's exciting - it's alive, and there is so much to see and do at night here. One thing I really enjoyed was seeing the sunset from the Arc de Triomphe. The blazing oranges, red and pinks was a sight to behold from the end of the Champs Elysees.

Paris' Arc de Triomphe

                                                                                                                                                                                                               ©CM

22 November 2011

Paris, At Last

Ah, Paris! There's no place like it. There's a certain magic, a certain je ne sais quoi, in the air. It's intoxicating and addicting - like you could never get enough of this city. This was my second time in Paris, and it instantly felt like home - or maybe even like it was going to kidnap me and hold me hostage (maybe that was wishful thinking though...) Being submerged in "Le Parisien" lifestyle is fascinating - the sounds, the smells and the sights. You never want to close your eyes when you are here, fearing you might miss something. The cafes with their outdoor seating, the tree-lined boulevards and the distinctly Parisian architecture are some of the things that captivate me and I never wanted to leave Paris and her charm.

In 2008, Paris was all decked out with stars and many of the landmarks were lit blue
at night to kick off France's six-month presidency of the European Union

The roof of Hotel des Invalides - where Napoleon's tomb is located







21 November 2011

St. Paul de Vence

A short drive from Nice is the tiny town of St Paul de Vence. This is a sleepy town, but also one of the oldest medieval cities in the French Riviera. Visiting here feels like discovering your own private piece of France - the only other people, besides our tour group, that we saw were locals going about their daily business. There are some fascinating artists here, as well - each window display was more intriguing than the last and each one had a completely unique style. St. Paul de Vence is an awesome, quaint (in a good way!) place to discover in the French Riviera.


I love the patterns in the street - completely unique                                                                              ©CM
                   to St. Paul de Vence

20 November 2011

Nice is Nice

Indeed, Nice is nice. Despite the...quaint hotel we stayed in (the hard beds, slightly sticky walls, etc..), I really did love Nice. It's a breath of fresh air - away from the bustling cities like Rome and London. The escapism comes mainly from the nearby beach (the Mediterranean Sea!) - water always has that calming effect. I immensely enjoyed walking along the beach and listening to the unique sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles. That's right, this beach is entirely made up of pebbles, instead of sand. A bit uncomfortable to lay out on, but I loved it nonetheless. And the fact that Nice is located in the French Riviera, makes it accessible to some equally beautiful towns nearby (Cannes, St Paul de Vence and Eze being a few). Nice is the perfect place to take a vacation from your vacation!

Nice's pebble beach

War Memorial along the beach

One of my favorite sounds - the waves beating against the pebble beach:

19 November 2011

How I Enjoyed Monte Carlo Without Spending Money

If you're like me, then wasting money (especially on gambling) has absolutely zero appeal.  So, when I found myself in Monte Carlo on my European tour, I was a little unsure of how I was going to spend an hour or two here. But, I (and my travel partner-in-crime, Christy) are never bored and can always find ways to keep ourselves entertained. So, instead of wasting too much money in a casino, what did we do? Of course, we had to at least go inside the casino, as it's what Monte Carlo is famous for, but we also walked around taking pictures, finding nice vantage points and meeting up with some of our travel mates. There's a little stretch of greenery right in front of the casino - with fountains, beautiful plants, etc...so it was like a walk in the park. Definitely a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.

Overlooking Monaco

There it is - the Monte Carlo casino     ©CM

18 November 2011

Pisa and the Piazza dei Miracoli

My last stop in Italy, on the European Cavalcade tour, was in Pisa. Even though there's not a whole lot to do/see here besides the leaning tower, I had wanted to visit here so bad the year before - when I was living in nearby Florence. So, I was excited to be here and experience Pisa, just as it is. There's a tiny little tram (so cute!) that takes you into the heart of the city, right outside the Piazza dei Miracoli - which is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are three major buildings that make up this piazza - the baptistery, the duomo and the bell tower (or leaning tower). I absolutely loved the architecture of these buildings, and the brief time Christy and I had here was great!

Piazza dei Miracoli - baptistery in front, then the duomo and the bell tower in the back.


I loved how so many of the Italian buildings were made up of these columns and statues.  ©CM

17 November 2011

Florence 2.0

October 2008 - I find myself once again in Florence, Italy. A year ago, to the month, I was living in Florence, seeing these landmarks every day of my life. It was so weird to go back - as with anything, it felt the same, only different. It's like I no longer belonged and I was just one of the millions a year who only visit for a day. But I was so excited to be back, especially with my best friend Christy, so that I could show her around some of my favorite places. It was nice to actually know the area and have a plan of action for sightseeing, as opposed to not really knowing where to go and just wandering aimlessly. I previously listed the best museums and churches to visit in Florence...so, now I bring you the best things to do in Florence in about two hours (having spent virtually no money!).

Start at Piazzale Michelangelo for a postcard view of the city. It's gorgeous and peaceful up here and it lets you get an idea of the layout of the city.

                                                               Piazzale Michelangelo                          ©CM

                                                        One of the copies of the David         ©CM


Pompeii - Lost in Time

It's an eerie feeling to find yourself in Pompeii. It really feels like walking back in time - like finding yourself in 79 AD, after the devastating volcano, Mt Vesuvius destroyed nearly everything. I could hardly believe that you could still make out the foundations of houses and shops from back then. To imagine the horror that this place saw is unbelievable. While Rome has some of the most famous ruins, the ruins of Pompeii are not to be missed for anyone interested in history. I walked this site with an incredible sense of awe - dramatized by Mt Vesuvius looming in the background, able to erupt at any given moment. (I'm thankful it held off for the time being.)

                                                                              One of Pompeii's main streets                   ©CM

                                                                                         ©CM

16 November 2011

Vatican City

Within Rome's boundaries is Vatican City - a city-state unto itself. I was so excited the day we got to explore Vatican City and its museum - we woke so very early and lined up outside the museum walls - but it definitely was worth it. Christy and I, and the tour we were on, were one of the first ones inside the museum - able to completely enjoy the works of art without the hoards of people. If you thought Florence's Palazzo Vecchio and its ceilings were intricate, bold and over-the-top...you'll be blown away by the Vatican Museum's ceilings. It boasts never-ending hallways full of frescoes, decorative patterns and sculptural angels. You'll forget you're supposed to be looking at the art on the walls, since you're too busy looking at the art on the ceiling. So over-the-top, but it's amazing.

                                                           Vatican Museum's ceiling              ©CM

Magical Rome

Ah, Italia!  ("Bongiorno" as our tour guide, Emile told us every morning while in Italy). I was so excited to visit Rome while on my European tour - and it was completely different than I imagined. The traffic was insane! (I don't think there actually were any traffic laws that were abided by...but, actually, now that I think about it, Cairo was worse.) It was nearly impossible to navigate the streets, even just outside of Rome. But once inside the city of Rome, proper - it was like stepping back in time. When in Rome, it's impossible not to imagine the city as it was centuries ago (some of these buildings still having been there). Buildings such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum have a certain power over you, not only because you've grown up seeing photos of these landmarks, but also because of the history and what took place there. It was fascinating. Rome is such a large city as well - there's so much history to see and explore...you could spend years here and not see it all.

                                                                      Rome's Pantheon                            ©CM

Inside the Pantheon - the ceiling was gorgeous!


15 November 2011

Capri

About halfway through mine and Christy's European Cavalcade tour, we found ourselves in Capri! Oh, Capri! I loved it here...whereas it had been pretty cold everywhere else, the sun shone brightly here in southern Italy. After a 45-minute ferry ride from Naples to get here, we got the chance to wander the island, searching out gorgeous vantage points. It was truly breathtaking and quite peaceful (once you got away from the crowds). Our tour eventually broke up and we all went separate ways - following whatever excited us most...shops, restaurants, walking, etc. (Wandering alleyways and taking photos of unsuspecting Italian men being some of the things that intrigued us). Capri was definitely a highlight of our tour and I still reminisce about the unreal blue water, the lemony drinks and the experience as a whole.


Seriously, doesn't this water look fake? So pretty

Venice: Further Afield

Venice is a photographer's dream. The canals, the pale multi-colored building, the gondolas and bridges. You can have a lot of fun here. As me and Christy went our separate ways for the day, we both took a whole slew of photos before heading off to a nearby island (see below). Here are some of my favorites:

                           Yes, that's gum


                                                                                      © CM
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