Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Out and about

Quotes of the week:

American Couchsurfer: I've hosted people in hostels.

Turkish man: Do you speak English, oder?

Korean woman: Do you speak Turkish?
Me: No.
Woman: Then how are you following this?
Me: I don't know.

Methods of travel used in past four weeks:
Mountain bike
Pick-up bed

Time to slow down.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


No entry would be complete without a food shout out. This typical Israeli falafel pita is slathered with tahini, a savory sesame-based sauce, and topped with fries. Legs optional.

Jerusalem's Old City is predictably heavily patrolled. Teenagers toting M16s keep a vigilant eye out for teenagers of a certain other ethnic and religious background chucking stones. If only they could stop the endless rows of barking shopkeepers.

This gnarled, ancient tree in the Garden of Gethsemane seems to represent something. The grounds are meticulously maintained by a retinue of monks as Christian pilgrims wind their way around, listening to stories of Jesus' last days on earth.

The stations of the cross are another highlight for Christian pilgrims in the holy city. Snaking through the Old City, Christians mark the locations where Jesus was humiliated and publicly decried as he was led to Cavalry for his crucifixion.

More haunting and thought-provoking than the heavily trafficked sites of inner-city Jerusalem can be found in the city's wooded suburbs. Yad Vashem is the penultimate Holocaust memorial and research center, and academics that it supports are among those pioneering the latest research in exploring the fates of Jewish minorities in Eastern Europe during World War II. This wall is but one of many documenting non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Shoah. Approximately 5.8 million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis and their predominately Ukrainian, Romanian and Baltic collaborators in a five-year period. Countless millions of others -- including hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma and Sinti, more than two million Poles, more than two million Soviet POWs and millions of others across Europe died as a result of Nazi expansionism.

Sign spotted in East Jerusalem. Translations?

A distinct tensity permeates every strata of Israeli society. This bomb shelter at the labrythine and constantly expanding Tel Aviv main bus terminal illustrates the value that Israelis place on safety.

Tel Aviv's Ha-Ir HaLevana, known in English as the White City, is the largest extant example of Bauhaus architecture. The site was initially engineered and populated by Jews who immigrated to British Palestine in the 1930s during the emergence of the National Socialist regime in Germany. Today the neighborhood is pockmarked with art galleries, cafes and ethnic restaurants, giving it a laid-back vibe and attracting a bohemian and student populace.

Solemnity of Petra

If you have the fortune of starting your day trip to Petra in Amman, be sure to eat at Hashem in downtown Amman, where for under $2 you can get a spread of hummus, falafel, pita and tea with fresh mint, onions, tomatoes and chili paste.

"Ride, mister?"

The true beauty of Petra lies not necessarily in the handiwork of the Nabateans who built it and the Romans who expanded it, but in the vast loneliness that inhabits the place today. Ceremonial tombs, long robbed and exposed to the elements, afford scenic outlooks and places of respite and relfection.

Despite its international status, tourism to Petra is not overwhelming as compared to other sites around the globe. Indeed, the site's sprawling nature guarantees that you will be relatively alone to explore the ruins for hours at a time.

Entire structures await entry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

River Jordan

Jordan has been an exhilirating nation full of unfettered beauty and unbridled chaos, accompanied with healthy doses of famous Jordanian hospitality and a smattering of scammers and hustlers. Unfortunately, Jordan lacks a strong infrastructure for the independent budget traveler -- but what it does lack in resources it compensates by offering experiences of singular wonder.

Jerash in northern Jordan is a solemn Roman city spread out over the area of Pompeii. It is remarkably well preserved, and as the tour groups dissipate you get the opportunity to be engulfed in imperial splendor from ages past. Kitschy dramatizations in the hippodrome available for 12 Jordanian dinar.

Atop Aljun castle one can see the Golan Heights (far left, edge of visibility) and Syria (far right, edge of visibility). Aljun was constructed by a nephew of Saladin in the twelfth century to ward off Crusaders. It was subsequently expanded upon and integrated into Mamluk defensive network in later years.

For sale outside the castle is cardamom-infused Arabic coffee freshly brewed over a wood fire.

Typical avenue in northern Jordan.

Amman Beach at the Dead Sea offers visitors a chance to unwind by floating comically in the high-salinity, oily, mineral-enriched water. Across the seascape one can faintly discern structures on the West Bank.

Amman by night takes on a surprisingly romantic appearance.

The King Husseini Mosque is one of downtown Amman's chief attractions. This impromptu bus station here on King Faisal street gives commuters access to the city's chief arteries.

The ancient Nabatean merchant city of Petra -- later occupied and expanded by the Romans -- contains more than 70 tombs carved into cliffs, a massive temple, a memorial to the Roman governor of Arabia from Hadrian's era, a colonnaded mercantile avenue and an amphitheater. Even though it is saturated with tourists and overly aggressive Bedouin tour guides, the city is so massive and sprawling that a visitor will find himself or herself alone in solemnity more than once.

Amman's bookstores offer a number of questionable publications. Featured here is Mein Kampf by everyone's favorite.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

East Bank Blues

Dead Sea, oily hands
pulling you into the sky
time to bathe, my friend

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Savory savoriness

Yesterday we tested the limits of good taste with a trip to Rogacki in Charlottenburg, a deli renown for its vast selection of cheeses, meats and northern European specialties. My mouth will never feel the same.

Clockwise from top left: Cheesecake, pistachio cake, stuffed grape leaves, pickled raw herring roll.
Again: Sebrian salad, potato salad, fried fish, sauerkraut.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Southside Sunday

Sundays are days of rest and relaxation -- and in Berlin, the notorious Flohmarkt (flea market), where people sell anything from broken blenders to soul records to wash basins. This weekend saw a trip to the Hallentrödelmarkt in Treptow, a neighborhood in east Berlin. The jewel acquisition was a homemade 1989 Butthole Surfers live bootleg on cassette. Go figure. Also of interest was the graveyard of döner kebap signs, seen below.

With one Flohmarkt down and another to go, we were disappointed to learn the flea market at Moritzplatz was long gone and has since been replaced by a community organic garden. Not ones for letting a change of plans get in our way, we made our way to Volkspark Hasenheide, a public park built by the Nazis to beautify the city before Olympics. In an unusual development, the vast park today is known for its extensive trails and drug-buying opportunities. It is no exaggeration to say that drug dealers literally stand in the shrubs, catcalling at passersby. Indeed, across from two dealers was a small petting zoo, featuring my favorite friend:

He did not seem to enjoy the cold too much. Moving on we made our way to Viktoriapark, known for its towering iron monument to Prussian victories in the 1812-1814 War of the Sixth Coalition against Napoleonic expansionism. The monument is prefaced with an artificial waterfall that courses down an incline.

In the vicinity of Viktoriapark is Tempelhof Airport, the largest remaining example of Nazi architecture. It is more famous today, however, for the role the airport played in sustaining West Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948/49. Western airmen delivered goods and supplies to the city on a 24/7 basis to nourish the city through the winter. Today, a solemn memorial commemorates the airmen lost in accidents during the Luftbrücke (air bridge).

Venturing south we entered the historically immigrant working-class district of Neukölln, sprinkled with kebab shops, erotic stores, Arabic bakeries and an inordinate amount of litter. Standing out was this unusual sculpture park.

Rounding out a day on the city's south side witnessed the purchase of a typical Berlin street dish: the currywurst. White pork sausage is sliced and slathered in a tomato-based sauce mixed with curry powder. Jared almost vomited.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Seasons, seasons, seasons

It's that time of the year. Fall has come to northern Germany, and with it comes festivals, celebrations, recognitions of harvests had and to come. It may be no coincidence, then, that circuses are on the rise.

Grand Circus William presents the World of Circus. This white-tiger themed circus features plenty of non-white tigers and a trapeze artist that appears to be wearing a lucha libre mask soaring above a black stallion.

Thursday is family day.

Not to be outdone by Pankow (but who ever is, really?), Cricus Krone advertised near Alexanderplatz promises, uh, horse tricks. The oddly chosen landscape of hooves below the typeface creates the illusion of horses melting onto the stage.

But with fall comes something more important: fall fashion.

Ironic? You decide. Either way, H&M has opted to go the gritty, messianic route. Knowing how unkempt the fashion models appear, then, what of the mannequins? A night-time stroll by Humana near Alexanderplatz gives us an idea.

This man is all about swagger. From his posture, which is somewhere between tripping on the sidewalk and soliciting candy to children, to the, uh, cowskin background, everything is going wrong here. I would pay 35 Euros to send him back to the dairy farm he came creepin' out of. The milk jug of flowers isn't going to win any female mannequins over for him, either. Unless ...

They look something like this. One of them is so unbalanced she is literally using a ball of yarn to hold herself up. Cowman must induce fainting spells.

Then there's her, frozen in perpetual sneeze, scalp all messed up, catlady clothes draping off her emaciated torso.

One more for good measure.