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Nov 22, 2007

Nov 9, 2007

A week in Israel - the melting pot of faiths for centuries

I was lucky enough to get a week's trip to the holy land of Israel. The client was looking to move into a resource-rich part of the western coast of Africa, and were in the process of deploying a competing telecommunications network to complement the need for technology.

Jaffa port - the view of Tel Aviv

From the tedious interrogation at the Johannesburg airport till the rigorous check during departure from Ben Gurion Tel Aviv international airport, it was very apparent that the Arab skin colour is not the best possible one to have in order to guarantee a hassle free trip. On the one hand, it ensured my safety in the region (for which I'm thoroughly glad for), but its also sad that 'random' checks are necessary in order to keep the civil life in motion.

The view of the beach from outside our hotel

The first couple of days were spent between the client and the hotel. We were based in Tel Aviv throughout our stay. The first night was spent exploring the old port of Jaffa near Tel Aviv. The food there is amazing. Very healthy, yet tasty - a rare combination! I fell head-over-heels over the hummus and tahini - great combos with the amazing breads and pitas. They also love their cheese. Meat in Tel Aviv is a no no.

From outside old Jerusalem. The Messiah of the Jews will walk through the sealed gates during the coming.

By the way, Jewish traditions are followed very strictly in Tel Aviv. Amusing, yet interesting traditions they follow include: the black coat, top hats and sideburns worn by Jewish men even in the hot & humid weather, the following of the Sabbath - no work which also includes not pressing the floor buttons on the lifts.

Inside Jerusalem.

We were treated to sushi and hamburger lunches by the client. Very kind of them. Perhaps its just my lack of experience, but I noticed that even if it takes a while to become close to an Isreali, once you've got their attention, they will truly honour your presence with their friendly atmosphere and the down-to-earth attitude. I was really taken aback at how quickly they warmed up to us.

The view from Jerusalem into the region of Massada. Olive leaves in the foreground.

The highlight of the trip has to be the day tour of the holy city of Jerusalem - the melting pot of the 3 major religions in the world - Islam, Judaism & Christianity. Its quite interesting to follow the history of the city (kingdom of heaven) where the faiths positioned their traditions upon. Its also quite heart-breaking that the people in the region have almost been pawns in the power plays of the great conquests and crusades in our history. One faith overpowering another based on teachings passed down through religious leaders. You'll probably figure out by now where I stand regarding this issue...

The road to Jerusalem

Ok, so Jerusalem's Christian, Jewish & Muslim symbols of faith stand powerfully throughout the divided regions in the area. The people in the city don't seem to care about the fuss around them; it was pleasing listening to our Jewish guide and the Arab traders engaged in chit-chat about the day. For me, the people and the lifes they follow made my trip worthwhile.

Sooo, what did we get upto in Jerusalem? Here goes...

  • We stopped at a point outside the city infront of a large number of graves (Jews believe dying in the holy land is the closest possible route to God). It also faced the old stone walls surrounding Old Jerusalem and views to the Western Wall.
The view of Old Jerusalem with Temple mount's golden dome.

  • The Garden of Gethsemane with a Church next to the olive tree filled garden. The sealed gate from which the Messiah according to Jewish faith will come through is just a few yards away.
The garden of Gethsamene

  • The Arab side of Jerusalem. The most vibrant part of Jerusalem. Great buys, excellent food, lots of beautiful people :) Did I mention how pretty Israeli women are? Tanned skin, beautiful black hair, engrossing eyes, aah..
The vibey, Arab side of Jerusalem.
  • The Western wall. Huge wall housing the ark of the covenant, and the holiest structure in Jewish faith.
The side streets inside old Jerusalem.

  • The many temples, churches and mosques in this little area. The church of Golgotha was very uplifting. It housed the rock of Golgotha and the stone on which Jesus was placed after his crucifixion.
Inside the church of St. Mary
  • The following of the steps of Jesus to the crucifixion.
The entrance into the church of Golgotha.

  • Last but definitely not least, the Holocaust museum. An engrossing look into our dirty past, and the impact that people have on their fellow human beings. Its a beautifully designed and informative museum - probably the best one I've been to. Starts off showing the lifes of Jews before the times of the Holocaust, goes through timeline through the the persecution, and eventually opens into a beautiful view of the city from a high vantage point. Almost like the creators were telling us to look at the world around us before shaping our future. Very enchanting, depressing yet uplifting. The picture of the Jewish mother shielding her daughter from the German soldier's shotgun just inches away still remains with me.
So thats Jerusalem, and Israel. Very spiritual, vibrant yet solidly founded on faiths that have shaped the history of this tiny portion of the world. Many have tried to make the region a part of their faith. Perhaps, its better if we rather tried to make the region a part of our hearts...

Cape Town - a weekend with the folks

Eventually got down and dirty, and decided to treat the folks to a weekend in Cape Town - the southern most tip of the greatest continent on Earth. Cape Town's generally the 'red pill' of any visit to South Africa. No trip is complete without taking into the beaches, food, wine, weather and sights of the quaint, yet charming town based under the valley of the beautiful Table Mountain.

A list of activities we indulged in:

  • The V&A Waterfront - an impressive waterfront based on the busiest part of Cape Town. We decided to explore this area first. There were some great views of the ocean and the mountain, as well as various little shops and flea markets displaying different items of souvenirs.
A view of Table mountain from the waterfront

  • Table Mountain - What strikes the discerning traveler the most has to be the flatness of the mountain, and the views that the top of the mountain offers of the Cape Town harbours and the various beaches lining the coast. The cable car ride was a great experience. Come with student cards and/or pensioners cards and you will save big. :)
King of the world... On top of smoky Table mountain

  • Camps Bay - This beachfront offers the some of the tastiest seafood I've eaten (then again, any seafood in SA is good - the quality of fish available on the inner regions in SA tend to be a little unappetizing. There's also an excellent 360 degree view of the beach and ocean on one side, and the mighty Table mountain on the opposite side.

The Table mountain side of Camps bay... Pity the clouds, it would have been a splendid view otherwise.

  • The Aquarium - Went, saw a lot of fish, came out. Nothin' too special to mention.
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens - a well-developed valley that has a wide range of flora. Learnt quite a bit about the various herbal plants... Interesting and informative, its a must for any botanist. My parents loved this one.
An orchid from the Kirstenbosch gardens

  • The Vineyards - no trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to some of the vineyards in the Cape Town and Stellenbosch area. We hit the Spier winery, and did some wine-tasting. It helps put one in a silly mood throughout the rest of the trip... :)

  • Cape Point & the Cape of Good Hope - Two ecological points on the southernmost tip of Africa. These points offer tourists the opportunity to convince themselves that they are as far south as they could possibly get. Great touristy spots. Saw a lot of water, and the joining point of the 2 mighty oceans of the world.
The family - on the Cape of Good Hope

  • The Gatsby - got a recommendation to try out this typical Cape malay traditional food. Its basically a very large hotdog shaped roll with all kinds of meat, veggies and sauces. It was definitely unhealthy...but very tasty!

Cape Town... Try it... Wish I had more time to explore more of this place. I'll definitely do CT again. Perhaps, with a different itinerary.

Lekker bly.

Nov 2, 2007

Malaysia's eye-candy

The petronas. Really awesome esp as one gets closer and closer to the base.