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!

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