Saturday, May 23, 2009

East Coast, USA

One nice thing about Boston is that my bank has an ATM on every corner, and there's no 1% foreign currency charge. Another is that Bostonites have the highest per capita rate of donning sports team attire on days when there's not a game than any city I've ever visited.

Compared to when I lived in town, the Somerville/Cambridge/Boston area is crawling with bicycles. The cyclists, most of whom do not look like serious athletes, usually wear padded spandex bike shorts. And helmets. Where are my Parisian bikers in their peacoats and stilettos, with hair flowing in the breeze? Are these Bostonites all training for a race that I don't know about?

Today I'm heading to the beach in Maine to camp with some old college friends. It should be like my night in Versailles, round two, except that this time there'll be friends and tents and fires and hot dogs and beer. It's good to be back.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Last night in Europe

Yep, tomorrow I fly to Boston. I'll stay a week, then return to Chicago on MAY 26!!!

It'll be my first time in the States since September. Besides cake doughnuts, I'm really looking forward to American showers, take-out Thai, twelve-ounce coffee to go...ummmm...the US dollar, used bookstores with English books, not looking slovenly compared to the Parisians, a full wardrobe of clothes and shoes, $4 burritos, Chicago pizza, root beer, oh, and not having to schlep around with all my stuff on my shoulders!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don't mind the ostrich

I was just getting tired of the other photo. Hope you enjoy this one, from an excursion yesterday to a chateau slash wild animal park. My "aunt" wrote about it in her blog today--check it out for more pics.

And now, from the very funny site "Stuff White People Like," please enjoy this little essay about what I (and a zillion other schmucks) have been doing for the past eight months. (Thanks, Jenna, for the link!)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ingrate


That I'm in France fantasizing about an American breakfast pastry must be a sign that I am burned out on travel. But here's the truth: there's nothing I'd like more right now than a good, firm cake doughnut. The croissants, pains au chocolat, pains au raisins, chaussons aux pommes, all with delicious buttery pastry, inimitable outside France, leave me indifferent. I'm salivating at the thought of this lovely cake doughnut, with a little clear glaze, and a good cup of coffee.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Proof that I'm still breathing

Kyle and I in Paris last week

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The end is nigh

Yes, the inevitable (or at least probable) is finally upon me: I am burned out on travel. The schlepping, constant reorientation, and lack of stable q-tip supply has finally worn me down. I'm shopping for plane tickets. On the upside, I've landed in a cozy country retreat--my "uncle" and "aunt's" house outside Paris--while I sort out my return.

Funny story about my bicycle...I was planning to ride it around Spain, but the box I picked up from the bike guy in Jerusalem was made to fit a nine-year-old's ride, not so much my big touring bike. I managed to wedge most of it in, but one entire wheel had to be left behind in Kyle's dorm room. The rest of it spent a month in my buddy Pablo's Madrid apartment, until Kyle came to Spain with the orphaned wheel in tow. Poor bicycle.

Thus, deciding to leave unicycle touring for another time, I was obliged to travel around Spain like normal folks: on the bus.  Since I left you in Granada, I've endured 36 cumulative hours of bus rides to Valencia, Barcelona, back to Madrid to meet my gf, then with her to Sevilla and back. The worst, by far, was my ride with Kyle to Madrid. The entire bus reeked of pork products. A weird dude across the aisle from us stared at our chests for about four of the six hours and then ate a whole package of sausage slices, without separating them, directly off the plastic wrapper. With his mouth. It was enough to turn us off of jamon for the rest of our trip.

Speaking of ham, did you know that Spaniards enjoy several varieties of ham-flavored potato chips? There's even a picture of a little ham leg on the bag. French potato chip flavors include mustard, ham-and-cheese sandwich, and herbed rotisserie chicken.

Oh, another quick, weird bus story. On my way to Barcelona, I had to ask some chick to move out of my seat. They're assigned, and I like to have a window to lean on when I sleep. She moved over to the aisle and forced me to climb over her to sit. I made myself cozy, then noticed that she was using a crochet hook to dread a long, blond, severed ponytail that was bound with a white scrunchie and held between her knees. Is this the revenge she takes on people who ask her to move on the bus--to chop off their ponytails while they snooze? Thank heaven for my short hair.

I'll be posting some photos and such before I make it back home, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Updates, already

Hey there,
I´m sorry I´ve neglected you for so long! My very valid excuse is that I was stranded at a beach resort on the Costa del Sol with my dad and his gf, and we were busy dodging Brits. The only internet at the place was in the office, which was open six hours per day. The computers were coin operated. Picture me feeding euros to a computer while trying to do my taxes and find a place to stay in Málaga, and maybe you´ll be more sympathetic about my lack of blogging.

Well, I´m in Granada now. Today I went to the Arab baths, which is a spa lit by candles and star-shaped ceiling lights, with beautiful tiled walls, fountains, and arches. For 23 euros, I got to soak in all the tubs, hit the steam room, lie on warm marble slabs, and get rubbed down with oil by a masseuse. If you come to Granada, GO THERE.

There´s something about Spain that makes me want to go shopping. I can´t resist the colorful clothes everywhere, and the huge Zaras in every city don´t help. Consequently, I´ve totally blown my budget and am going to have to scrimp if I´m to keep traveling until July! Fortunately, I´ve had delightful couchsurfing hosts in Málaga (an American who teaches English) and Granada (a Spanish guy who is a day trader), so I haven´t had to lay out too much cash for housing. Hopefully my couchsurfing luck will continue this week in Valencia and Barcelona!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sevilla. Que me cago.

Os debo noticias, ¿verdad? Pues, venga.

I´ve spent the last three days wandering as if in a dream through the streets of Sevilla. It´s a city where flamenco dancing is a legitimate profession, where during the hottest half of the year women, young and old, fan themselves with abanicos, and where people eat dinner standing up in crowded bars and throw their napkins on the floor. Four years ago I lived here for a semester with a Spanish couple and took classes through an exchange programe at the Universidad.

It is a trip to be back. Every time I set out walking in a direction, I manage to intuit my way to exactly where I want to go. And every couple of blocks, a stray memory pops out at me. I had hot chocolate here once with so and so when we were trying to find the flea market. I called the States on this payphone my first week here, when I was miserably homesick. I got 1 euro coffees here between classes. I almost want to leave immediately, for fear of creating new memories that will tread on my old ones. It´s like I´m watching a huge soap bubble drift in the breeze, but if I stare too long, it will pop.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Destination: siesta

I´m in Madrid after a horribly early flight, and am about to take a
nap. How´s that for exciting news?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ancient bread and two bad eggs

To bookend our trip to Egypt, Kyle and I spent a few days exploring the south and north of Israel, respectively. First we hit Mitzpe Ramon, a little town on the edge of the giant "makhtesh"--sort of like an enormous canyon or crater. We stayed in a tent the size of Kyle's dorm room, then hung out by the edge of the cliff, took some pictures, and saw lots of wild, roaming ibex.

Afterward, we continued down to Eilat, at the bottom tip of the country. Based on the folks we encountered there, "bottom tip" might be a frighteningly accurate description of the city's inhabitants. At the Egyptian consulate, a couple of batty Brits wandered in to demand whether they needed new visas for Egypt, since they'd just been there. They discovered that they indeed did, and also needed passport photos, so they left in a huff to get pictures taken. "If you see an old man with white hair come in, that's my uncle. Tell him we'll be right back," the woman instructed. They returned twenty minutes later with the uncle in tow. He wore a crew neck sweatshirt, dark aviators, and had chin-length white hair. Apparently, the guy had disappeared forty years ago and the batty Brit couple had traced him and found him hiding out in Eilat. Kyle and I weren't sure he looked happy to have been found. After we got our visas, we went out for breakfast, where we encountered crazy old guy #2. He had buzzed grey hair, was chubby, and wore sweatpants with a t-shirt and enourmous, clown-sized sunglasses. He ordered a latte and a couple of pastries, keeping the sunglasses on all the while. He stirred sugar into his latte and set his pastries carefully on the chair next to him (for safekeeping? to protect from pastry-klepto's?). The sunglasses never came off.

After Egypt, we headed to Haifa, on the Mediterranean, in the north. We couchsurfed with a 23-yr-old married couple. They'd met when she, an American, had done a high school exchange program at the school on his Israeli kibbutz. After high school, she'd immigrated to Israel, where they both joined the army (mandatory for most Israeli citizens). They got married last year.


From Haifa, we went to Tsfat, a town full of mystical religious people. Tsfat looked the part, thanks to clouds of fog that rolled back and forth through the hilltop. We stopped for lunch at a tiny store that sold local music, mystical books, and "ancient bread." The guy at the grill, dressed in a white robe with some sort of head wrapping, asserted that the food he served was the first bread that man ever made. I'm sure he knew. It was a sort of savory pancake with onions, cheese, tomatoes, and spices on top. As we ate, he showed us a book that talked about crystals and bean sprouts and the magical power of words.

Last Thursday, weary after our travels, Kyle and I went to the Ein Gedi Spa on the Dead Sea. We floated in the indoor warm mineral baths, covered ourselves in mud, then walked down to the Dead Sea and rinsed it off. The "beach," rather than sandy or rocky, was made of hard, white mineral crusties. Floating in the sea and the mineral baths was incredible. One literally doesn't have to do anything to stay above the surface. Lie on your back, your belly, or just kind of sit suspended in the water. Read a book, close your eyes, relax--do whatever you want, just don't get the water in your eyes or mouth. My favorite floating activity was to roll from my belly to my back, round and round, on the surface of the water. Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop.

We popped in the outdoor sulphur showers to finish the day. Back home, four days later, after numerous fresh water showers with soap, we still smell like two bad eggs.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

I like American coffee

Perhaps I'm inviting ridicule, but here's the truth: I miss living in a city with chain coffee shops strewn every couple of blocks that serve reliably moderate-quality, excruciatingly hot coffee in 12+ ounce paper cups. Let me explain.

France: French coffee isn't bad. It's just tiny. And not really portable. At every Brasserie (cafe slash bar slash restaurant) in both Paris and rural towns, one can exchange about three dollars for a one-ounce cup of freshly brewed espresso. The quality varies from tasty to bitter. If you're a latte kind of gal or guy, you can get a cafe au lait, which will cost between three and five dollars and will be served in a 2-4 ounce cup, depending on whether you ask for a "petit" or "grand." It's satisfying, for about three minutes. Then, with the cup drained, you're left to entertain yourself until you can find the waiter again and ask for the bill. Fortunately, French cafe culture doesn't frown on loiterers.

Israel: The Holy Land brings coffee trouble of a different sort. The bean quality is usually good, and sizes are little bigger than in frog country--a whopping ten ounces or so at largest. Like France, no one cares how long you stay. There are coffee chains everywhere. They serve espresso beverages and (less frequently) filter coffee. The problem with drinks in Israel is that they are never, ever hot. Coffee is generally served on the hotter side of warm, so that the first sip of a latte here is the temperature of the last sip of a latte in the States. Within a couple minutes, the small drink that you just paid over three dollars for is tepid. Oh, but this place is plagued by an even more gruesome demon: Nescafe. Apparently this youthful country didn't develop a real cafe culture until recently. Before Cafe Hillel and Aroma dotted the Jerusalem streets like off-duty soldiers--i.e., they're everywhere--Nescafe was ubiquitous. (I don't just mean any old instant coffee; it's literally Nescafe.) Now, the same shops and restaurants that serve espresso also have Nescafe on the menu. And to further the insult, it's usually more expensive than real coffee! What sort of deranged sap would choose to purchase a lukewarm, 10-oz mug of bitter, disgusting Nescafe when there were perfectly respectable caffeinated alternatives available for 25 cents less?!

Egypt: Your only option here, unless you want a Nescafe, is "Arabic"/"Turkish" coffee. It's like the Turkish coffee available in the US except that it isn't sweetened or spiced: it's strong, served in a tiny glass with the fine grounds still in it. Smart people skip the last two sips, or wind up with a mouthful of grit. It's not bad. At least it's hot and cheap. Cairo, however, as a huge, international city, is home to ten branches of a terrible, local-cafe-crushing, American coffee chain. Yes. For our first excursion our first day in Egypt, Kyle and I went to Starbucks. More photographic evidence is available in the slideshow at right. I'd like to call Kyle the fink, since it was she that insisted we go, but I can't deny that I enjoyed every burning hot sip of that enormous, slightly over-roasted latte. Or that we went back three times.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back and in one piece

I finally got back to Jerusalem yesterday! Kyle and I had hoped to make it the night before, but thanks to the border guards who wouldn't let us bypass a line of 300 Christian Nigerian pilgrims, we missed the last bus. More unbelievable tales to come. In the meantime, here's a story about the Cairo blast that we thankfully missed, and a pic from the pyramids with Kyle on the right.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

From a cafe in Cairo

Yep, we made it to Cairo. The bus ride across the Sinai went smoothly, except for the part when it broke down, our couchsurfing host is cool, not that we've met her yet (she left a key under the mat for us) and we've been to the market and the antiquities museum, where we each lost 50 Egyptian pounds, Kyle to a sneaky necklace vendor, I to the museum bathroom attendant.

More on all this later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heading South. And then West.

I'm taking off for the week with Kyle. We're going to the Negev desert in the south of Israel, then to Eilat on the southern tip, then taking a very lengthy, uncomfortable, and cheap bus ride to Cairo.

Will try to blog from Egypt, but in the meantime, check out very new photos from our trip to the zoo last week and our valentine's day excursion to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. Slideshow's in the sidebar at right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five months

It's officially five months that I have been away from Chicago! Good news: I haven't eaten through quite half of my travel money yet! Bad news: I probably would have spent a lot less if I'd picked any continent but Europe and any Middle Eastern country but Israel.

The plan from here is to travel around Israel a bit, maybe go to Egypt for a week, then fly to Madrid in March. I'll travel to a few spots in Spain, see some friends and probably my dad there, maybe meet Kyle in Barcelona, spend a week with her family in Paris, and reevaluate. Paris puts me at the end of April. I have a wedding to attend in Chicago at the end of July. The months in between are up in the air.

I'm almost caught up on photos. Check out my cheese-making adventures at the last farm in France and my family Christmas outside Paris.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The zoo, the Assumption, and belated photos


looking at the orthodox families looking at the elephants

Thanks to my dad for pointing out that Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven, body and soul together, and therefore they think her "tomb" is not a tomb at all. (This is called "the Assumption.") According to Wikipedia, some Catholics believe that Mary never died; she just zipped right on up to heaven. Other Catholics and other Christians think she died, was buried, and ascended three days later. Either way, my Streetwise Jerusalem map labels the spot as "Tomb of the Virgin Mary." And, apparently, I'm a bad former Catholic.

Please enjoy a slideshow of photos of my last French farm, to the right. You can hit the larger slideshow on Picasa with a click.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bad blogger

I'm trying to be a bit less of a blog slacker. One post a week just doesn't cut it. I know.

Today I took my bike out to try to visit the tomb of the Virgin Mary and the room of the Last Supper. As in the Virgin Mary and the Last supper, which is kind of hard to wrap my head around. Mary's tomb was hidden away, across the street from the church where I thought it would be. One had to enter a dark doorway and descend two levels' worth of stairs to get to the tomb. Here's a visual of the decor at the bottom:


My search for the Last Supper room was less fruitful. I rode around the east and south sides of the Old City walls, enjoying lovely views of the Mount of Olives (the enormous cemetery on a hill where Jews think the messiah will come first to resurrect the dead) and Jerusalem:


The building that allegedly held the Last Supper site was dim, sketchy and under construction. Men wearing hardhats were walking around showering plaster bits everywhere. A Jewish man greeted me at the entrance and took me to King David's tomb, then offered to show me the LS room if I paid him afterwards. I told him I'd brave it alone. I wandered around this very odd building, which seemed entwined with the Mt Zion Yeshiva (religious school). I never got to the Last Supper room, or at least not a room that was labeled as such, but I did make it onto the roof:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Checkpoint queue and a trip out

So, I think I have the answer about the line of Palestinian men outside of the checkpoint. Palestinians with permits to work in Jerusalem have strict curfews; they are only allowed to leave the West Bank at a certain hour and generally have to return by 5pm. There are so many people trying to get through the checkpoint in the morning to go to work that some arrive a couple of hours early to get in line. At about 2:30 or 3am, we ran into the very beginning of the line.

This Monday, Kyle and I went to Tel Aviv to visit a couple of her friends there. What a relief it was to get out of Jerusalem! We found our way out of the Tel Aviv central bus station--a veritably creepy maze--and stepped out into a real city. For the first time in a month, I felt like I could breathe. People walked the streets wearing all sorts of fashionable and trashy clothes--the sorts of clothes that real people wear in real places. There were no black-clad orthodox Jews to be seen. The subtle tension in the Jerusalem air was palpably absent. The sun was a little hotter. We took off our coats and walked down the street holding hands.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Holy Mullet!



For all who were wondering if my hair has gotten long, here's Kyle and I in front of the "security" wall in Bethlehem.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vodka-swigging rabbi and stray guardian angels

Friday's services turned out to be rather short--we spent longer walking there than we did at the services--and though it was not officially an orthodox community, the men and women had to sit separately. And, surprise, the gender segregation was not my cup of tea. The men's side was very active in all the prayers, while all the women but three or so sat around barely even reciting them. The rabbi, of course, was with the men, and couldn't be seen by the women because of folding screens. During the very short talk in English, a small upper portion of the screens were opened so the women could peer in at the rabbi, but that was all the contact we had. Still, this was much better than it could have been. Kyle went to one service where the women were all crammed into a space the size of a parking spot. After that service, the men did kiddush (blessing and sharing bread and wine, minus that "blood of Christ" part) and then lobbed their leftover, bitten-into hunk of challah bread over the dividing screen for the women. Nice.

Our service ended so early that we had time to head back to the student village for the free Chabad dinner. The Chabad (a certain type of Orthodox) rabbi was theoretically there to try to get secular Jews to become more observant, but the dinner turned out to have no more of a religious bent than any other Shabbat dinner. This one just included lots of poor students trying to mooch a meal. Let me tell you about the rabbi, though. He gave the impression of a doofy, bumbling American guy in this mid-thirties wearing a rabbi costume. He kept asking Kyle and I if we were sisters or roommates.

Midway through the meal, he brought out two huge bottles of vodka and two smaller ones of banana schnapps, and announced that everyone was to order a shot and then introduce himself to the group. We proceeded, one by one, to tell the rabbi what we wanted (half a shot of vodka, half vodka-half banana [ew], etc.) and say our name to the group. This took a good half hour. The rabbi announced that the second round was "self-service." More food came out. I had thought the rabbi was joking about seconds until he started taking more shots. Then he stood on his chair to give a little talk, during which people were passing the vodka around. Every time it came within arm's reach of the rabbi, he would grab it and pour another half shot. He'd toast, drink, and continue. When people started to get rowdy, he pounded the huge bottle on the table to get their attention. The guy was trying so hard to be heard that he started losing his voice, which prompted even more frequent vodka shots--as much as one every half sentence--in order to moisten his throat.

By the end of the talk, of course, the rabbi was drunk as a skunk. He started singing traditional Shabbat songs and pounding on the table with his vodka bottle. A pipsqueak adolescent who was at the dinner (why? I dunno) had had his own shot of vodka, and had weaseled another shot or two from the crowd. This kid decided that the bottle-pounding was a great idea. He picked up an empty schnapps bottle and imitated the rabbi. By the second or third tap, the bottle shattered and everyone shooed the kid away. The evening concluded with the rabbi dancing with three of the male students, who took turns wearing his hat.

So that was Friday.

Saturday evening, Kyle and I went to Bethlehem for a party. Long story short, getting home was something of a production. Around 2:30 am we got a ride to the checkpoint , where there was a little market set up outside with everything from coffee to canned tuna. We had to step over about fifteen men lounging on the entrance ramp outside. Whether they were waiting for an appointed time to cross through, were homeless, or just thought it would be a great idea to take a snooze there, we're still not sure. We proceeded through the deserted, fluorescent-lit checkpoint maze as someone yelled in Hebrew over the loudspeaker. There were no soldiers in sight at most of the expected places, but they must have been watching us because they buzzed us through a couple of doors. Finally, after watching a Palestinian guy have to show his ID, special papers, finger prints, blood type, and DNA swab (kidding on only the last two) to a nineteen-year-old soldier who was paying more attention to telling a story to her colleague, we gave a quick flash of our US passports and exited.

On the other side, we started walking toward Jerusalem in search of a taxi. A medium-sized, collarless dog came bounding up to us just outside the checkpoint and Kyle and I each tried to jump behind the other in fear of a canine attack. Rather than biting us, the mutt was just running up in greeting. He ran ahead a bit and sniffed around, then continued forward. Kyle noticed a similar dog several hundred meters behind, who kept trailing us. After a few minutes, we realized that effectively, we were being escorted by the two mongrels. It was 3am, the streets were deserted, and the evening was starting to feel surreal. Our buddies escorted us in safety for about 20 minutes until we flagged down an off-duty bus, who whisked us farther toward civilization, where we picked up a cab.

Thanks to Kyle's new video camera, we have these lovely grainy movies of our protectors.

Rear guard:



Front escort:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shabbat for the uninitiated

Last week Friday, Kyle smuggled me in to services at a "conservative" synagogue, one of the most liberal places of Jewish worship in the city. Dinner followed in the attached yeshiva, or religious school, where men study Torah full-time. She told me I had passed well for a Jew, but I'm not so sure. My light hair and eyes betray my Gentile identity, but fortunately, thanks to the desert air and he fact that I haven't cut my hair since I left Chicago, I have a semi-authentic looking Jew-'fro.

My resume of previous Jewish religious experience was short. I went to Friday services at Tufts U Hillel a couple times freshman year with friends. The first time, I was the only one in the temple with bare shoulders (a result of seeking wardrobe advice from a guy so gay that he didn't even know what women wore to Temple, he was so busy checking out the men). After the service, when the guy with whom I was mildly obsessed wished me "Shabbat shalom" and tried to kiss me on the cheek, I had no idea what was going on and accidentally turned my head away. On another occasion freshman year, my blonde goy roommate got drunk on two glasses of Manichewitz and spent the rest of dinner flirting with the rabbi. Then, for much of my junior and senior years, I served as unwitting Shabbat goy at the weekly Friday night dinner. On the upside, all of us student caterers got to drink bellyfuls of (kosher) Dr Brown's cream soda and eat leftover latkes.

Tonight, I am willingly being dragged to a different Shabbat service, which might be followed by dinner at the rabbi's house. If anyone out there believes in some sort of god, please pray I dont make an arse of myself!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goy among the Chosen

I had hoped that I'd already put in my time with the culture shock fairy, but she seems to be following me around the world. What is this strange place? I pester Kyle with questions but we are the blind leading the blind. Further, I don't know a thing about Judaism. It's allegedly all about the same god I knew from my Catholic upbringing, but without Jesus, sin, heaven, or hell. What's left?!?

I've been going to Bethlehem twice a week to volunteer at a small nonprofit that does recreationel education for Palestinian kids. It's run by some conservative Christians from the states, which has been a sort of culture shock of its own, despite the fact that the org itself is not religious. Whereas my last job conditioned me to cringe at any mention of religion in a grant application, now I'm editing proposals to Christian foundations that ask questions about our org's "statement of faith," "systematic prayer," and philosophy on converting the "lost." Oy vay. To further offend my American penchant for separation of church and, well, everything, Israeli ID cards include the bearer's religion. I miss the French and their laspsed Catholicism. (And their croissants. And pig products and soft, salted butter.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

No cause for alarm

So, it seems there is a war going on. One of Kyle's roommates had two classes cancelled the other day because her professors got called up. Professors. Called up. Professors! Other than the stray academic ditching the University in favor of combat, life goes on as normal here.

We spent New Year's Eve in Tel Aviv at a tacky British pub that had Strongbow on tap. I was still in the thick of the "French Crud"--the potent, fever-inducing cold that wiped out the whole family over Christmas. On Jan 1st, we reassembled my bike, which had been taped up for the plane in a box that was my approximate height and about three times my width. We wheeled the baggage-laden bike to the central bus station. A security guard at the door was checking everyone's bag on the way in, but Kyle sweet-talked him into letting us in with the bike, and the guard didn't even look at any of the huge bags strapped to it. So much for security.

Getting onto the actual bus was trickier. The bags fit into the cargo space easily, but the space next to the open hatch was filled with huge suitcases from all the other passengers. The hatch doors on the other side of the bus, where there was space, were closed. Two thin, middle-aged Asian men saw Kyle and I trying to figure out how to fit the bike. "Push!" one of them said. The two of them proceeded to wave us out of the way, bend 90 degrees at the waist, and shove the heap of suitcases toward the back of the cargo hold. The bus driver started honking at us, and finally, with a little more shoving, we fit the bike. As soon as we got to Jerusalem, Kyle fell victim to the French Crud.

A few days later, when Kyle had started to kick the Crud, we ventured out to the Old City. In one afternoon, we saw the holiest Jewish and Christian sites in the world: the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The 2000-year-old W-Wall was part of the retaining wall that held the Temple Mount, on which the Second Temple was built. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and this bit of wall is the holiest part of what's left of the original construction. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built over the places where Jesus was crucified and buried. One can actually go see his tomb.

The day after our trip through biblical history, we decided to try a more modern excursion: to Jerusalem's mall. The way there involved a minor bus mishap, where we went to the northern outskirts of the city, only to find ourselves at the end of the bus line opposite the location of the mall. When we finally arrived, we had to stand in a ten-minute line to have our bags checked and walk through a metal detector before we were unleashed in a huge, US-style, indoor mall. We made a bee-line for the food court and were rewarded with lukewarm, kosher Chinese food. Delicious. We walked around the stores for awhile and then saw a bad American movie. Halfway through, a Hebrew word flashed on the screen and the lights came up. Was the film broken? Did we have to evacuate to a bomb shelter? No one around us seemed to be alarmed. It was only intermission.

Monday, January 5, 2009