Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa

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My husband and I second-guessed this trip approximately one million times.  We had actually planned our visit before the lovely Trump debacle, which left us in a bit of a predicament afterward.  Was it safe?  Was it ethical?  The answers to  those questions are pretty complicated and still not entirely certain.

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In the end, it was curiosity that won.  One of the reasons we choose to live abroad and travel is because we have always believed that the world is so much more than what is portrayed in the media – an instinct that has so far been proven to us countless times.  When class was dismissed for the last time for the semester, we eagerly grabbed our bags and headed to the airport with open minds, plans unchanged.

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We woke up bright and early in Tel Aviv to find a place that felt both strange and familiar.  In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Florida with its skyscraper skyline and long stretches of beach.  Perhaps less like Florida were the hordes of people working out literally everywhere – on the stairs, jogging down the sidewalks, doing push-ups on the beach; I made a mental note to do a better job of sticking to my workout regimen after our trip.

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The waves were insane!

Tel Aviv proper is a lovely, modern city filled to the brim with great restaurants and cafes.  Brunch seems to be a popular concept there and I did not mind one bit.  My immediate impression was that the city was very laid back and liberal and I learned before arriving that it is one of most gay-friendly cities in the world, which is not what generally comes to mind when people talk about the Middle East.  It also didn’t hurt that the long stretch of Mediterranean coast that outlines the city was one of the most spectacular walks I have ever experienced.

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Following that coastline leads to the nearby Old Jaffa, which is suspected to be the oldest port city in the world.  We had scheduled a free walking tour with SANDEMAN’S because we had had such a good experience with it in Prague.  In the end, I was so glad I did because I gained a lot more understanding of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Israel in general.

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I had not realized how much of Israel was once part of Ancient Greece, which is very apparent in the architecture of old Jaffa.  I also had a miniature nerd meltdown when the tour guide told the story of Perseus and Andromeda (which  happened to be my favorite Greek myth as a child) because it supposedly took place in Old Jaffa, lending its name to Andromeda Rock (pictured above).

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Another fascinating tidbit from the tour was the story of Simon the Tanner, who, according to the bible, played host to Saint Peter.  While on the rooftop, Saint Peter had a dream which would change the course of Christianity (and, unquestionably, the course of humanity).  In the dream, two angels approached Saint Peter with tons of animals to eat, including pigs and shrimp.  He turned down the gift because, at this time, Christians still followed a kosher diet; however, the angels insisted, telling him that nothing they could sea with their eyes was unclean.  This dream was important for two reasons:  1) Christians could now eat bacon and 2) Non-Jewish people could thenceforth be converted to Christianity, which was not the practice prior to this dream.

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To be honest, I’ve never been very religious, but I found this story to be very interesting because I recognize how much it has shaped the world we live in today.  Also, bacon.  After our awesome tour of Jaffa, we walked back along the coast and stopped for a lovely dinner, where we enjoyed some local brew.

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The art scene was LIT.

Even as I write this, I feel like I can’t find the right words to describe Tel Aviv.  It felt so much like an American city at times, yet it is ancient.  It was like many other places I’ve visited, yet unlike anywhere else.  What I can say is that I enjoyed my time there not only because it changed my perspective on that part of the world, but also because it is genuinely a safe and pleasant place to visit.

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2017

This year has ended on a really bitter note for me.  To be honest, I’m really ready for it to be over.  That being said, I don’t want to let the bad overshadow all the good that has come of this year.  Here is a look back at my 2017 in pictures:

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January

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February

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March

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April

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May

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June

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July

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August

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September

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October

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November

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December

Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2018.

 

A Trusty Travel Companion

dsc_0176I’ll never forget my first trip abroad.  I had just turned 18, and although I had wanted to get out and see the world my entire life, I really had no clue what to expect.  I packed a huge suitcase full of ridiculous outfits that were hardly suitable for any of our plans and two travel journals (in which to chronicle my adventures in broken French and Spanish).  To be honest, I didn’t love that trip.  I was culture shocked by the overly forward French men, didn’t love the people in my group, and realized very quickly that carefully structured group tours  were not my jam.  Still, I learned a lot of unexpected lessons on that trip and my thirst for travel remained intact.

Fast forward to now, and I am still learning and growing with each trip we take.  One thing that has definitely improved is my packing skills.  I still would not consider myself an expert, but I’ve gotten better and better at knowing what to take along and what to leave behind.  This year especially, I’ve stumbled onto one handy little item that has been a life saver on multiple trips now:  the blanket scarf.

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These babies go for 10 lira (roughly $2.50) on the streets of Istanbul and are worth every penny (kuruş?).  I initially bought one because I was freezing one afternoon in Kadıköy and they looked really warm (which they are).  However, I’ve discovered that these bargain accessories are so much more than what meets the eye.

First of all, they’re great for plane rides.  We’ve been on many red eye flights, most of which have not provided blankets…and even when they do, they usually pale in comparison to my blanket scarves.  They are generally pretty water-resistant, so they have been great as makeshift towels or covers to protect things from getting wet in the rain.  I even used one to protect my 3rd degree sunburn from the heat in the Maldives.  Rain, shine,  or snow, these cheap rectangles of fabric have become my best friends.

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What strange things do you swear by on your travels?  I’d love to hear.

Hulhumale – my kind of layover

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We had about 24 hours back in the Maldives before having to catch our flight back to Turkey (and back to reality!)  We wanted to make the most of our time there, but we also needed to catch up on sleep after spending all night in the Colombo airport.

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There really couldn’t be a better place to spend a long layover, considering the whole country is full of beautiful beaches.  The main conundrum people run into is the ferry schedules.  Not all of the ferries  run at convenient times, and if you have an early morning flight, you don’t want to risk going very far.

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After asking around, we determined that the best choice was the island of Hulhumale, which is right across the bridge from the airport.  Buses run every 30 minutes from the airport and are very cheap and comfortable.  We did not book in advance, but were lucky to find a reasonable hotel with a room available.  Our only agenda was to soak up the sun one last time and enjoy the beach (and our last day of vacation!)

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While I certainly hope anyone traveling to the Maldives goes for more than just a layover, there are certainly worse places to be stuck for 24 hours!

Tissamaharama and Yala National Park

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The last leg of our Sri Lankan journey was Tissamaharama, a city in the Southern part of Sri Lanka known for its diverse wildlife.  We went there specifically for the early morning safari tour at Yala National Park, where we hoped to see some exciting animals.

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What we weren’t expecting was to see so many strange creatures wondering around the town like it was no big deal.  On our first day there, we decided to take a walk around the lakes near our hotel, and got our first glimpse of a land monitor.  At first, we thought it might be a baby crocodile (not hard to find in those lakes), but once it got closer, we realized it was a very big lizard.  They are similar to komodo dragons.

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This place gave me some serious nostalgia from my World of Warcraft days.

We woke up at 4:30 the following morning to get ready for our tour, which is really saying something about how excited I was about the safari because I despise mornings.  I had just enough time to chug some hot tea before hopping in the jeep.  I still felt pretty dead inside, but I loved driving under the stars with nobody else on the roads.

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We watched the sun rise and entered the park, eager to spot something special.  Our first sighting?  A bunch of cows hanging out in the water.

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Next, we saw a peacock dancing his ass off, trying to impress a couple of lady peacocks, neither of whom seemed very interested.

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The first few hours passed by pretty uneventfully.  We were starting to worry that we’d made a huge mistake going on the safari and wouldn’t see anything at all.  And then…

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This cute guy burst right through the trees in front of us!

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Sadly, we didn’t spot any leopards.  Our driver said it was most likely due to the heavy rainfall they had been having.

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We did, however, see this adorable family of wild pigs.

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The babies!!!

I wish we would have had a luckier day, but it was still an enjoyable morning.  It will definitely not be our last safari.

Among Mountains in Ella

DSC_0240.JPGI have mentioned recently that I love visiting beaches, oceans, and seas after having spent the majority life without easy access to such places.  Well, I am equally impressed by mountains since in addition to being water-less, Kansas is also literally flatter than a pancake.

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We arrived in Ella after an epic train journey in the middle of the pouring rain.  We could barely see where we were going as we rushed down narrow, rocky stairs to our hotel room, but once we reached shelter and were able to look at our surroundings, we knew we were in for something special. Our room was literally on the edge of a cliff with a crystal clear mountain view.

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That view, ya!

We decided to take things a bit slower in Ella since we had been rushing so much everywhere else in Sri Lanka.  We had a couple of good days with no planes, trains, or buses to catch and we took advantage of them.  The best part of each day there was waking up next to the emerald green mountains and enjoying a leisurely breakfast.

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The town itself is basically built for tourism, but not necessarily in a bad way.  It’s no surprise that such a beautiful place would attract a lot of visitors, and other than the disappointingly bland food designed to cater to the Western palate, guests and locals alike seem to enjoy Ella’s laid back vibes.

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The main item on our Ella agenda was to do some hiking.  We decided to hike Little Adam’s Peak as it seemed the most reasonable given the amount of time we had on our hands. Luck was on our side that day as it was one of the few days it did not rain while we were in Sri Lanka.  As for the hike itself…I’ll let the photos do the talking

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Moving Through Tea Country

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The central highlands of Sri Lanka are mainly famous for one thing: tea.  The frequent rainfall provides the perfect climate for production and the stunning green hills have started to draw the attention of travelers, particularly hikers and backpackers.

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We began our journey through tea country in Kandy.  Our original plan was to take the scenic train ride from Kandy down to Ella, but once we learned it would entail over eight hours on a packed train, we decided to change our plans.  Instead, we hired a driver to take us to Nuwara Eliya and then hopped on the train for the last three hours of the epic train route.

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Though it is more expensive to hire a driver than it is to go by train (about $30 vs. $1), it was well worth the extra cash for us to have a comfortable amount of space and the ability to stop along the way.  Our first stop was at a tea factory, where we were able to sea how all of the different kinds of tea are sorted and processed.  Then, we were able to do a taste testing of the teas, and of course, buy some tea to take home.  Our favorite was the strong brew of the Broken Orange Pekoe (especially with a little milk and sugar!).  We also made several stops to stroll through various tea fields and to see some waterfalls.

DSC_0141.JPGWe arrived at the Nuwara Eliya train station just in time for the 3 PM train; it was everything we’d hoped for.  We lucked out and were able to sit by one of the doorways…certainly not the safest spot, but definitely the most picturesque!  The pictures will never do it justice.  Every curve along the rail revealed a breathtaking new scene.

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When I was first doing my research for this trip, so many people talked up the long Kandy to Ella train.  Personally, I couldn’t imagine myself enjoying something like that for eight or nine hours, unless I’d booked way in advance and gotten a good seat and brought along a healthy supply of books (and snacks!).  If you want to experience the great views, but don’t want to spend all day on a slow, crowded train, definitely consider the Nuwara Eliya to Ella route.

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