Posts Tagged With: Vacation

Losing a Piece of my Travel Soul

I have been planning my families’ vacations since 2007. That means every single detail. I pick the flights, airlines, trains, visas, dates, times, hotels, restaurants, museums, sites, etc. I spend days, weeks, and sometimes even months researching every last detail. What time does this museum close? What days is this site cheaper to visit? When do they have extended hours? Which train will take us from this place to the next? So on and so forth. It’s exhausting, but so rewarding. My mom and I are insane travelers. We shove an entire city or country into a couple of days. Would I recommend this? No. However, when you have a limited number of days off you got to do what you got to do. Plus we are from NYC, so we walk twice as fast as everyone else. We don’t regret the intense vacations we have because we are able to see so much. I never want to leave a place with a serious case of “I wish I could have seen/done/visited ______.” I might only get to a visit a place once so I want to see it all the first time. This means I need a place to store and organize all of these details and directions.

This place was always Yahoo! Trip Planner. My trip plans were masterpieces. I had every last minute mapped out with times, admission costs, and directions for every place. My trip plan became my bible while I was on the run in Greece, Paris, Dallas, etc. A couple months ago I went on Trip Planner to start my next trip plan for my upcoming trip to Europe. I kept getting an error message. I tried everyday for a week with no luck. I was having a trip planning breakdown. I emailed, Facebooked, and tweeted Yahoo! and Yahoo! Travel. They told me to be patient. The error message never went away. My thumbs up and comments from other people were no longer visible either. I knew then I should fear for the safety of my beloved Yahoo! Trip Planner, but I put those depressing thoughts out of mind. After days of research I picked a new company to use for my trip plans. I’m using TripIt. I don’t love it, but I don’t have a choice. I held out hope for Yahoo, until a couple days ago.

On February 27th the dreaded email came:

Dear valued Yahoo user,

In an ongoing effort to sharpen our focus and deliver inspiring and engaging products and services, we sometimes have to make tough decisions. Effective March 21st, 2014, the Yahoo Travel services “Trip Planner” and “My Travel” will be permanently discontinued. If you have uploaded Trip Plans to the site, please click here to learn how to save your information.

Thank you for your continued support.

Yahoo Travel Team

I didn’t know if I should cry or be angry. They had just killed a piece of my travel soul. I was in a state of shock for at least 20 minutes. I now have to print my trip plans so I have them, but it just won’t be the same. My entire trip plan portfolio represents hours upon hours of research, frustration, tears, joy, excitement, aggravation, curiosity, etc. Each trip plan had to be perfect before leaving for a trip and each trip plan reflects a part of me. They show you I love Egypt, history, politics, Italian food, bakeries, Hyatt hotels, and the Northeast. I can seriously close my mind and picture myself hunched over at various computers with travel books all over my floor or desk, google maps tab open, and tons of other relevant travel sites minimized. I will miss reading other people’s reviews on places and looking at the pictures while I contemplated whether each attraction, hotel, or restaurant was worthy of being added to my trip. The trip plans were also my first time doing something connected to travel on the internet. I constantly refer to them when working on this blog.

If you want to look at my trip plans before they disappear on March 21st 2014 please click the links below. I deleted a couple before I decided to make this blog post. If it takes you to the trip journal tab just hit “Trip Plan”:

Greece

Cancun

Israel

Georgia

Washington DC

Boston, Plymouth, and Salem

Baltimore

Dallas

Paris

Boston, Lexington, and Concord

Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland

Yahoo! Trip Planner all I have left to say is, “Thanks for the memories!”

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Categories: Mish Mash | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Almost Missed Our Train to Philly

2/20/14
You probably don’t know this about me but I’m either early or late. I’m rarely ever on time. My mother knows this about me and thus usually forces me to be anywhere from 1-2 hrs early for planes and trains.

I woke up at 7:30am and our train wasn’t leaving until 10:30am. In my mind that left 2 hrs to get ready, 30 mins to travel there, and 30 mins to wait. Somehow that didn’t work out. It was 9:45 and I was struggling to find a bag I needed. I found it and we ran out of the house to the subway. My mother was pissed at me. I kept mumbling I told you not to book an early train. I don’t do mornings. We run down the subway stairs and catch the packed train waiting to leave the station. We got on much to the annoyance of the people standing already. We waited and waited and waited and waited. The train wasn’t leaving the station. My mother kept shooting me dirty looks while I prayed for the doors to close. In my head I was picturing a repeat of my MET fiasco where it took 2 hrs to get uptown. I kept looking at my phone for the time. What the hell was going on? We were going to miss our train and it would be all my fault. The train doors finally closed at 10:05. The train ride should take 20-30 mins. We were screwed. By some miracle we got to Penn Station at 10:17. We had made it! I didn’t majorly screw us up.

Our train was on time and we took seats in the quiet car. The lady behind me spent the entire ride sneezing and coughing on me. To quote Jimmy Fallon’s character Sara, “ew!” I used the train ride to text, respond to work emails, and plan a video my friends and I will be filming next week.

We arrived in Philly around noon. We got out of 30th st station and we could immediately tell something was wrong. A street was blocked off with caution tape. There were police, fireman, and a huge crowd. There were more sirens in the distance. I took a picture because my friends and co-workers tease that I bring horrible events to places I go (war, revolution, bombings, natural disasters, etc). I sent it them and really figured it was just a bad fender bender, but no one was hurt because their was no ambulance, sense of urgency, flames, etc. We boarded Septa and headed to our hotel. A large transvestite fell on me when the train lurched. I smiled at the thought how normal that was when my non city friends would have freaked. I’m just glad I wasn’t crushed. They were the size of a football player.

We got off the train and were very confused. The entrance for our hotel was gone. We remembered a side entrance that was rarely used and headed there. That entrance was now the main entrance while they undergo restaurant renovation. We checked in and were happily surprised to find out that our room was ready despite being 4 hrs early and we had been upgraded due to my mom’s birthday. Our room was located on the 32nd floor, who is considered one of the club floors. The club lounge was located on 31. We headed to the lounge first only to find out it is only open on weekday mornings until 10:30am. It had a beautiful view though. Lots of different chairs to sit in. We headed back down to our room which was the exact same room as last time just 10 flights up. The room had two double beds, flat screen tv, desk, mini bar, Keurig, and a bathroom with a tub. The view is lovely from the room and it is very quiet.

We were hungry so we headed to Reading Terminal Market. We picked up a mini King Cake, a brioche roll, garlic crostinis, and an M&M cookie. I ate the roll in 10 seconds. I also got a christmas rubber ducky to add to my collection. We headed to an expensive thrift store so my mother could buy herself something nice as a birthday present to herself. Every time we go to this store they are closed. We arrive and they are closed again. However, this time there is a worker on his cell and he refuses to open up. Great work ethic! That annoyed my mom so we decided to move on. We did a lot of shopping. We went to Dollar General, Buffalo Exchange, Payless, H&M, Claire’s, and the shops at Liberty Place. We got free tea at Liberty Place from Tazo. We were going to go to Federal Doughnuts to see what the hype was about, but it looked like it was going to pour. We started to walk back to the area outside Reading Terminal. We did more shopping! I went to Burlington Coat Factory and Five Below.

At 4:45pm we headed back to Reading Terminal for discounted cookies. The problem was their dough wasn’t delivered on time so they didn’t have many cookies. My mom got a bunch, but I just got two. We headed across the street to Maggiano’s for dinner. We were so surprised that the place was almost empty. It’s usually swamped so much so that you face a 2 hour wait if you don’t make a reservation in advance. They sat us in a booth. We knew what we wanted to eat right away. We ordered fried zucchini and two margherita flatbreads (1/2 price for happy hour). They brought us out hot rolls. My mom ate most of the zucchini and some of the flatbread. I downed my food. All of a sudden the waiter, Edward, came out with cookies, a strawberry, and two candles for my mom. So sweet and awesome. I had put in my Open Table reservation that it was my mom’s birthday, but I totally doubted anything would be done. She was so surprised. I ordered an apple crostada and went in search of the waiter to sneakily give my credit card to so I could pay for dinner, but I couldn’t find him. Meanwhile, the couple in the booth next to us were having a bad night. The guy sat in cherries and the girl spent the whole time crying into her menu, then a tissue, and then her alfredo. We asked them to pack up the cookies and the remaining pieces of flatbread. We got matches for future candle lighting.

We got back to the room and were shocked to see two cupcakes and a card by the TV for my mom. The hotel had signed the card. We put a candle in the cupcake and she quickly made a wish. We settled in to watch the Olympics. She ate her cupcakes and I noshed on the leftovers.

Categories: Family Vacation, Food, Philadelphia, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vegetarian Meals on Planes

If you don’t already know this about me, I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat including seafood, but I eat things made from animals (ie cheese). Growing up I used to love economy plane food. I know, I am weird, but I did. That was when the airlines weren’t cheap you know what’s and you actually got a meal. My meals from JFK to Aruba usually consisted of a salad, roll, a box of two chocolates, and an entree. The entree was either a chicken dish or a vegetarian dish like pasta. Every time I have flown first class I have hated the meal. I’m not into fancy food and for some reason there isn’t a vegetarian option. On one flight they actually brought me the economy meal so I could eat something. I also dislike ice cream, again I’m weird, and that’s the only dessert option on all the first class flights. Yeah I know first world problems, but when it’s a long flight, you don’t sleep, and pay tons of money you definitely want to eat. They used to post the menus in advance so I could decide whether or not to order a vegetarian meal. They stopped doing that.

That special vegetarian meal used to be decent, but my recent experiences have been absolutely nasty. This is because United no longer offer lacto-ovo vegetarian meals. These were meals that contained cheese and eggs. So I got food like pasta, quiche, cheese sandwiches, french toast, etc. now they offer Asian Vegetarian meals, which is almost the exact same description as their vegan meals. Those meals consisted of rice coated in nasty unidentifiable sauce and 4 pathetic veggies. This brings me to my dilemma. I have an economy plus and businessfirst flights ahead of me this year. Do I order vegetarian meals and be struck with garbage or hope that there is a decent vegetarian option on board or pick at a non vegetarian meal?

Here are some of my recent plane meal experiences:

El Al to Tel Aviv-They forgot my veggie meal. No vegetarian option. I ate bread.

El Al to Tel Aviv-Again no veggie meal but their was a vegetarian sandwich option.

Delta to Amsterdam-Veggie meal was pasta with nuts (I’m allergic). This was also the vegetarian meal option on board. Food was good though (I picked off the nuts).

KLM to Egypt-Veggie meal was unidentifiable. Didn’t eat it. Roll could have broken a wall. I had a chocolate. A to go waffle was served for breakfast.

Air France to NYC-Veggie meal was unidentifiable. Didn’t eat it. Ate the bread.

United to Newark-Veggie meal was gross. I didn’t eat it. I wound up eating my mom’s ham and cheese sandwich minus the ham.

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Tel Aviv to JFK

Jan 12 2009

I boarded the plane and played musical chairs a couple of times. I finally wound up in the 2nd to last row of the plane on the left side. I was on an aisle so I was happy. I was sitting next to Deb and Ben was behind me. Ben helped me put my bag in the overhead compartment.

Shortly into the flight I realized I didn’t feel well. My throat was killing me and I went through all my stuff looking for cough drops, but I couldn’t find any. I asked everyone in the group, but no one had. I started to drink lots of water. We were then served our dinner, which luckily was vegetarian. It was a cheese sandwich. I devoured it. I started to run a fever and I felt very claustrophobic. More than anything I wanted the flight to be over. I attempted to watch TV and read, but I couldn’t concentrate.

Staci came over and confirmed that I was running a fever. I eventually fell asleep, which never ever happens on a plane for me. I awoke when we were about two hours away from NYC. I was still very sick. We were served breakfast. Chloe took all the grapes and shoved them into her mouth at one time, which was funny. I didn’t eat much.

We finally landed and I called my mom. I informed her that I was very sick. I then waited on a line for customs, which took forever. I must have been on the line for over an hour. I got my bag and said goodbye to whoever was still in baggage claim. Then I found my mom and I was so happy to see her. She had the water bottle I requested. I chugged it. I missed NY water so badly! I used the bathroom and we took a cab back to the city. I rested during the whole cab ride.

I came home and shared some of my Israeli food with my mom. I told her I was going to take a nap on the sofa while she ran out for medicine. I was knocked out when she came back. She woke me up to take medicine and then I slept for over 24 hours.

Categories: Asia, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jerusalem to Tel Aviv

Jan 11 2009

Our last morning in Israel! We had breakfast, loaded the bus, and checked out. It was a pain in the butt to get the luggage down to the lobby, but we all managed. I think we were all glad to be done with Shalom Jerusalem’s horrible tiny elevators.

We drove to an environmental place in Jerusalem to listen to a PowerPoint. It wasn’t working and we were all dead tired and not in the mood. Eventually the lady just gave up with the computer and spoke to us. I don’t think anyone was listening.

We boarded the bus and were off to Tel Aviv. Our first stop was Rabin Square, named for the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which included a visit to the Rabin Memorial. Shabat spoke to us for a bit.

Then we went to Independence Hall, site of David Ben Gurion’s proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948. We listened to a film and a guide talked to us. When we were standing outside the museum for a bit we were shooed a way because it was dangerous. We walked back to the bus and headed to the Carmel Market.

At the Carmel Market we were given free time to explore and get lunch. I skipped most of the market and explored the side streets. In the first store I went to I picked up some Tel Aviv postcards. I got a Jaffa one for Ms. Jaffe. After that I found some Sephardic bakeries where of course I bought my lunch. I met up with Deb and we browsed a bunch of stores. We bought some stuff to take home. In particular, I got more pop rock chocolate. Then we met up with Nora and Maddy in this park. They had made some new friends so we all chatted for a while. I left them after a bit to buy more Sephardic food to bring back to the states for my mom. I found Ali in the ice cream place where we used the restroom.

Our next stop was old Jaffa. We had time to explore the flea market. Shabat gave the group a challenge, which was to find the most unique/unusual item at the flea market and buy it. I decided not to participate as did most people. I went with Ali, Lior, and Jen exploring. I bought a necklace for my grandma and a shirt for my dad. After that we got bored and kept walking. Suddenly, the neighborhood started to get really shady. We decided to turn around. As we were walking back I saw a guy behind us move closer to us and signal to a guy across the street. I watched both of them get closer, just as I was about to get Lior’s attention the two guys saw Lior. In particular, his gun. Suddenly, they both stopped and turned around. Oy that was close. After that incident we still had more time in Old Jaffa. So a bunch of us sat by the clock tower bored out of our minds. Little did we know that our trip mates were at the beach watching the sun go down.

Eventually we all met up and Shabat warned us it would be a while until the next bathroom. Ali and I went to a coffee shop and paid to use the restroom. Some of the other girls did the same thing. Shabat had us walk through some winding back streets to this area that had all the zodiac symbols. There was even a bridge with the symbols. The bridge was called the Wishing Bridge. We were supposed to touch our zodiac symbol and make a wish while looking out at the Mediterranean Sea. By the way, my wish came true.

After that we got back on the bus. The people who bought stuff for the contest showed off what they got. Then Shabat showed us what he got. It was this blue insect thing on a stick. He won. Then he told us one of his infamous jokes.

Then we drove to a farm to eat dinner. We were all a little worried and confused by this piece of information. We ate in an indoor tent. The food was actually very good. My table went around and said what we’ll remember about each other. Our table consisted of Jen, Lindsey, Ali, Kevin, Alan, and myself.

After that we drove to a school. We created a yarn web by taking turns throwing a ball of yarn and saying what we liked about each other. Sarah Dickey picked me and said how sweet I was. I picked Ali. Then we cut our individual strands so we could wear them as bracelets. Staci and Anna handed out our group pictures and t-shirts. A bunch of us used the bathroom which was super gross and sketchy.

Back on the bus we packed up our cell phones so we could give them back. Some how we got on the fact that we sucked at the bus countdown. So we started to challenge ourselves by counting down in 30 seconds then 15 seconds then 13 seconds. We also did our countdown backwards. We had a lot of fun!

We watched Tel Aviv slip away as we drove to the airport. Shabat started to give away things on the bus, such as our signs and our map. I wanted the map, but Zac got it. When we got to the airport Shabat left us. We all thanked him and he gave us his card. Anna went and joined another trip. Shabat will meet another tour tomorrow. I don’t know how he isn’t exhausted. We all were beyond exhausted and 75% of our group had colds.

We got on a super long line to check our bags and get our tickets. I was little bummed that I didn’t get an aisle seat. We went through security and had time to kill before our flight. I walked around looking for a place to spend my leftover coins. I bought a bottle of water and a huge thing of Baklava for my mom. We hung out in the waiting area for a bit. Everyone was comparing seat numbers to figure out who was sitting next to whom. I was getting very tired. It was almost midnight so it had been a long day. Not to mention a long 11 days. We finally got the signal to board and we were ready.

Categories: Asia, Food, History, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Jan 10 2009

Wake up was later today because of shabbat. I chose to wake up earlier than everyone else because I wanted to attend the optional services at a synagogue down the road. I felt it was important to go to shabbat services in Jerusalem. The Pardo sisters and a couple of the guys went. We had a super fast breakfast and then walked to the synagogue. The Pardos and I sat upstairs in the women’s section. We were completely lost, which I knew I would be since I am lost during American services. The cool thing is that during services you are supposed to face Jerusalem, but since we were in Jerusalem we had to face the Kotel. When they called up members from certain special Jewish families there were actually people from those families in the congregation. That’s something you don’t see everyday.

I had originally wanted to do yoga after services, but I was tired and too lazy to change out of my long skirt. The yoga was a bit different this time and was more of an ab workout. So I’m glad that I decided not to change and just watched.

After that, we ate lunch and packed. The packing proved to be difficult because of the new stuff I had gotten and because my space bag no longer seemed to be working. Then I watched Sara braid Jacob’s hair. Next up were the Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. We were all very tired and out of it, but we tried to be as supportive as possible. The people that got Bar/Bat Mitzvahed from our bus were Joanna, Travis, and Margaret.

Next we went up to the roof for the Havdallah ceremony. We had a lot of fun. We sang, danced, and the guys lifted the Bar/Bat Mitzvah people on chairs. It was a great final bonding moment as a group.

We drove back into the heart of Jerusalem and had dinner. Ricky, Ali, Lindsey, Zac, and I ate together. Both Sarahs, Marc, Maddy, and Nora got the table right next to us. Our table had an interesting conversation about relationships.

We then walked to a lecture about unity without uniformity. Ruthie was there, so I was very happy to see her. It felt like just yesterday I saw her in the airport. I can’t believe our trip is almost over. After the lecture they brought out a band and there was a lot of dancing. I took a picture with Lior. After a while we were all tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. When we finally got back to the hotel, we all finished packing and then crashed.

Categories: Asia, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saddness, Shopping, and Laughter in Jerusalem

Jan 9 2009
Another early morning wake up call. Again, I was the first one to get ready. We had to dress conservatively today because we were headed to Yad Vashem. It was extremely cloudy out and was misting a bit. We stopped in front of the museum to take a group photo. We were just one of many tour groups there.

We got our tour guide who guided us through the museum. We had to listen to him on headsets. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum. I didn’t think the tour guide was very good and I didn’t feel the museum was comprehensive. Nor did I find it very moving. We got to see a room full of records from survivors, which was a bit interesting. The museum was very gray and dark. It opened out to a beautiful view of Jerusalem. To show the hope and renewal after the destruction. Morgan was in a wheelchair because of her Masada incident and her poor brother had to carry her up the stairs. For me the most moving thing was of a statue towards the exit of the museum complex. It was of a teacher who was given the option to be saved or die with his students. He chose to die with his students.

After that we went to the shuk. Ricky was my shopping buddy. First we hit the amazing bakeries and candy stores on the street outside of the shuk. Then he haggled for me in Hebrew so I could get a t-shirt. After that we got zatar from a spice merchant. We walked around the shuk for a while and looked at all the yummy food. The we wandered down a side street and found a Sephardic bakery that was cheap. We loaded up like nobody’s business. The food was amazing!
We headed back to Mehane Yehuda St., which was the meeting spot. We looked at what everyone bought. A lot of people were jealous when they saw the good looking items Ricky and I picked up. We met Shabat’s son. He was so shy. We had to leave because shabbat was about to start.
We got back to our hotel in time to hear the shabbat alarm.


We then did the candle lighting and had services. It was our 2nd shabbat Friday in Jerusalem. Let the shabbat elevator fun begin! We had dinner, which was yummy. I decided to get more adventurous with my food choices and was pleasantly surprised with everything I ate.

After that we went back to Jen, Lindsey, and Jordi’s room and hung out. Sarah, Sara, and both Jens were there in addition to Ricky, Ben, Marc, Jacob, Julie, Lindsey, Lior, Jordi, Emily, Rachel, Michelle, and myself. Jen flat-ironed Ben’s hair, while Ricky prank phone called Alan. It was hilarious! We were laughing so hard! Then we went up to Alan’s floor to continue the prank by knocking on his door. But when the elevator opened on his floor he was standing there. We let the elevator door shut and fell on each other laughing.

After that we went downstairs to hear what Hebrew names the soon to be Bar/Bat Mitzvahed people picked out for themselves. We then headed back to our rooms only for a fuse to go out. The hallways turned into a party. A couple of us eventually called it a night after an hour or so because we had to wake up for services in the morning.

Categories: Asia, Food, History, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Masada in the Morning

Jan 8 2009
The lights in the tent turned on and I heard movement. Wake up time. It was extremely early and still pitch black outside. I got dressed and ate some of the crackers they put out for us. We boarded the bus and waited. It turned out that Jordi was sick. We waited for her for a bit. Finally, we learned that we’ll have to leave her behind with Anna. Staci boards the bus and immediately gives us a lecture about staying hydrated. We each purchased a bottle of water from the bus driver.

We reach Masada National Park and Shabat and Staci rush us up the Roman Path. We can’t miss the sunrise! The Roman Path is the easier path, but a lot of us were having a hard time breathing. This was probably because it was steep, early in the morning, change in altitude, and we were rushing. Not to mention my 9/11 weird asthma thing didn’t help matters. Eventually we got to the top! All of us thought we missed the sunrise because the sky was light, but we were wrong. Shabat had us sit on the mountain and wait. We sat watching another mountain. Slowly, the sky went from red to yellow to orange. Then we slowly started to see the sun peek out from the mountain in front of us. We kept watching as it rose. It was magical!

Then Shabat made us sit in a circle and told us the story about Masada. All the Jews living on Masada killed themselves instead of letting the Romans take them. It was a very sad story and it impacted all of us. Next he took us over to the side of the mountain where we could hear an echo. We screamed a bunch of phrases and heard them come back to us.

We looked at some of the ruins including a synagogue and then we used the restroom. After that we started our long trek down the Snake Path. Where do I even begin with the Snake Path? It was super scary and super long! There were no handles most of the way, so if you slipped you could pretty much fall off the mountain. The walk down was narrow and took forever. Morgan slipped and hurt her ankle. When we got to the bottom I wanted to jump for joy!

We walked to an area with tables and we were given a boxed breakfast. I only ate the chocolate and the bread. I gave my food to whoever wanted it. Then we were given some time to shop in the gift shop. I bought a pair of earrings and some postcards. Then I spent a while debating about which expensive necklace to buy for my mom. I finally decided on a blue and white star. Alan bought a really cool shirt about climbing and conquering Masada.

While we were leaving Masada we found out that the northern part of Israel (where we were yesterday morning and the last time we had cellphone reception) had been hit with a missile. Pretty much none of us had spoken to our parents in 24 hrs and the last they knew we were in northern Israel. Needless to say a bunch of us called home.

We drove to the Ein Gedi Spa where we would spend some time by the Dead Sea. We each got a towel and we had to share lockers. I changed into my bathing suit. We had to wait and catch a shuttle to take us from the spa to the Dead Sea. This is because the Dead Sea has dried up and is no longer right next to the hotels and spas.

When we finally got to the Dead Sea, Lindsey, Jen, and I put our stuff on lounge chairs at the farthest end of the “beach” area. Then we all headed over to the mud pit. Everyone (but me) covered themselves in the mud. Ricky even swam in it. Since I didn’t go in the mud, I took all the pictures. I put a bit of mud on my screwed up thumb and that was it. A family even approached me to take pictures of them. Everyone’s pictures were hilarious.

Afterwards, we all went into the Dead Sea. I was a little scared since I hate water and swimming. It felt extremely strange to just lay back and float. The entire bottom of the sea was covered in hard sharp salt. I cut my toe open and the salt water burned so badly. After I got out of the water I felt nasty. The salt residue was gross. Before we went back to the hotel the girls took a group shot. Then we boarded the shuttle.

Back at the hotel some of the people went into the mineral pool, but I didn’t feel like smelling like sulfur. I already smelled like camel and salt. I went to the showers and rinsed the salt off. After that I walked around the shop for a bit. I got a couple of free samples for my mom.

When everyone was ready we headed to lunch. We each got a ticket that was good for certain items. We had to wait on a really long line for food. We were able to get a drink, desert, bread, and one item. I got baklava, a roll, and yummy french fries. The place was packed and it took us a while to find a table. Unfortunately, we were rushed through lunch because of our tight schedule.

We then drove to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. I immediately spotted a press a penny machine and got a penny. Yeah! So did Alan. We walked through the reserve and there were so many animals. They got so close to us, which was freaky at times. Shabat had us sit down and talked to us about some of the animals. He had Noah taste poop. He also had Ricky, Zac, and Roi act out a mating ritual for us. It was hilarious.


We stopped at some waterfalls and some of the group went swimming. I spoke to Dror for a bit about his upcoming trip to the USA. The reserve was absolutely beautiful and very calming!
We drove to Jerusalem and dropped Guy off. Then we went back to the Shalom Jerusalem Hotel with its horrible elevators. Rachel, Sarah, and I got a room in the middle of the hallway. We were directly across from Lindsey, Jen, and Jordi’s room. Sarah took the cot. Our shower didn’t flood this time, which made us all happy. However, our toilet wasn’t acting right. We all put our clothes on the shower rod to dry and went down to leave for dinner.

We drove to Ben Yehuda St. for shopping and food. I walked in and out of shops with Jen and Lior. It was a little unsettling to see signs thanking the brave tourists for shopping. Someone, maybe Lior, told me that the street had been attacked before. I ate a bagel for dinner. I found a Sephardic bakery and loaded up on goodies. The bakery was on a small side street so I was so glad I found it. I bought a shirt, some postcards, and an evil eye bracelet. I didn’t want to buy too much because everything was a bit over priced. Josh got a shofar and kept blowing it. Ali and I went to McDonald’s to use the restroom before we boarded the bus again.

I went back to the hotel and immediately took a nice long hot shower. Bye bye camel salt sand smell. After I showered I hung out with a bunch of people in Lindsey, Jen, and Jordi’s room.

Categories: Asia, Food, History, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans and Roaming Camels

Jan 7 2009
Wake up was at 6:15am. It was awful! I went back to bed. I timed it close and ate my breakfast in the room. I only went downstairs for a glass of water. I dropped my bag off in the lobby and we all waited outside the hotel a while. We found out that something was wrong with our bus. We said bye to Hilla and took some pictures with her. I wish she could have stayed longer so I could have gotten to know her better. I went back to our room one more time to make sure we had everything and then I handed our key in.

We found out that we were going to be delayed in Tiberias for awhile because of the bus situation. Shabat had us walk back in to the hotel and use the 2nd floor bridge to cross over to the area by the water. We sat on the rocks as Shabat talked to use about the Sea of Galilee. After a while Anna took out her banjo and started playing and singing. When I was looking around I noticed a sign that said “Go in Peace” and next to it were our two armed guards. Nice contrast. I wasn’t really paying attention to the other members in our group, but all of a sudden I saw Sarit was bent over with her hands on her face. Then she started crying. Anna screamed for Lior, but he didn’t hear her. I screamed for him as well and he finally looked up. It turns out Sarit got hit in the face with a rock. Staci, Lior, Keren, and Guy took her to the hotel.

Not too long after that Shabat told us the bus was fixed and it was time to leave. Ali and I ran to the bus and threw our stuff in. We also reserved seats. We ran to the 2nd floor to use the restroom before our long ride. It took awhile to load the bus and other people had the same restroom idea. Plus others went to the “restaurant” in the hotel to get some eggs to snack on. I was upset we got up at the crack of dawn only to leave at 11:30am. I could have slept another 3 hours.

I enjoyed looking at Tiberias as we left. It made me wish that we could have had more of an opportunity to walk around.

We drove for a bit and then came to a pit stop. Shabat gave us no warning as to what we were about to see. The sign said Bet Shean National Park. Once we got through the gates I was amazed at what I was seeing. It was like stepping back in time and it reminded me of my trip to Athens. Needless to say I was on cloud 9! I noticed an awesome gift shop, but I had a feeling Shabat wouldn’t let us stop there.

As we followed Shabat all I saw were rows of columns. We finally turned a corner and entered into an intact amphitheater. It honestly took my breath away. It was 10 times better than the one I saw in Athens. How did I not know this place existed? Shabat had us sit in the theater and took out his map. He draped it across Anna’s head and body, which was hilarious. He explained that the Romans had left this place after they had taken over Judea. So it wasn’t Greek, but then again the Romans stole their architecture from the Greeks, so of course it looked extremely similar. Shabat gave us a history lesson and I had to jump in at a point. How could I resist not talking about the ancient civilizations? We then forced Julie to go down to the stage and test the acoustics. They worked!!!

Then we walked around the rest of the ruins, which was mainly bath houses and columns. Then Shabat said we had a couple of minutes to use the restrooms before getting back on the bus. My plan was to use the restroom and shop in the amount of time given. So I ran to the restrooms and was first. Then I went straight into the gift shop. It was so big and there was so much to see. I wound up buying a mini replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some pens, and some postcards. While I was paying Shabat walked in to rush us to the bus. We got back on our bus and continued our drive to the Bedouin area.

Then we started Bus 804 Karaoke. It was very entertaining. Dror and Roi sang a lot. Then it switched to funny jokes. Ricky told a great one and Lior did as well. I don’t remember the whole thing, but it had something to do with stepping on bunnies, being ugly, and being chained to someone. Shabat told a sexual joke, which surprised a lot of people. He even had this guy sitting on a toilet picture and you had to use your fingers to make him a butt. Then he talked to us about the Judea Desert and the Dead Sea Scrolls. I took a lot of desert shots as we drove.

We stopped for lunch at Beit Haarava, which is the lowest place in the world. It’s 394 meters below sea level. The two options for lunch didn’t look very good or very clean. They were fast foody. Jen didn’t want to buy anything, but Lior convinced her to buy a falafel. I ate my own food and took a bite of Jen’s when she didn’t want anymore. I had promised my NYC falafel guy that I would try some in Israel and compare. The Israeli guys in NYC have better. I liked watching the strange contrasts as we sat there. There were camels, our big tour bus, and a military vehicle.

We got back on our bus and continued our drive. We had to stop at a military/police checkpoint. We drove through lots of desert before we spotted a group of trees in the distance. The trees were where our Bedouin tents were. I was excited and nervous. We really were in the middle of nowhere.

We got our day packs off the bus and went into the giant tent we were directed towards. It was extremely hard to get into the tent. You had to lift this heavy carpet material off the ground and then scoot in under it. For tall people this was a problem especially with having a bag. I placed my stuff near one of the metal poles.

Then we were given an opportunity to shop at the little Bedouin store. A lot of the girls bought hand knit scarves. Ben bought a shirt/jacket/hoodie thing that officially made him look like Moses. I bought a bag for Gayla. We dropped off our purchases and then went to the camel area.

There weren’t enough camels for everyone. So a little less than half the group could ride into the desert on a camel. The rest would have to be on donkeys. I didn’t want to ride on a donkey so I walked along with a couple of others. I’m glad I didn’t choose a donkey because they were low to the ground so the feet of the people riding them hit a lot of rocks and donkey poop. We got halfway into the desert and it was time to switch. I walked over to the 1st camel and waited for a partner. Ricky joined me. I was in the front of the camel and Ricky was in the back. It was a lot of fun!! Who would have ever thought that I would be riding a camel through the desert as the sun was setting?! The camels had extreme personalities. They made this loud screaming kind of noise and one even tried to eat Jordi’s hair.

After the camels we went to a tent all the way in the back of the village. They made the vegetarians and the meat eaters divide up. I was of course in the veggie group. They gave us this huge elevated tray for our group. It contained rice, bread, water, and vegetable skewers. I stuck to bread, rice, and the water. I had some cookies that I brought for dessert and I gave some to Anna as well.

After that we went into the main tent to listen to some music. It was a lot of fun and very entertaining. It was called a drum circle and pretty much was one big exotic jam session.

After the drum circle we went back to our sleeping tent. The Israelis were in a group talking. They all had dark sunglasses on. We knew something was up. Then they yelled at us to stand in straight lines in rows. They taught us how to salute properly and how to respond to commands/orders. Anyone who laughed or messed up had to do push-up’s. They were showing us what it was like to be in the IDF.

Afterwards we went for a walk in the desert. We sat and laid back in the sand while looking up at the sky. We talked for a while. When we went back to the tents a couple of us hung out at the bonfire outside our tent. I stayed only for a little bit. I preferred to get some sleep.

I waited on a long line for the bathroom area to change and wash. Then I went to bed. There were only a couple of us that chose to go to bed “early.” I slept on the mat and blanket they gave us. I used my coat and scarf for a pillow. Surprisingly, I slept.

Categories: Asia, Food, History, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Times in Israel

Jan 6 2009
I woke up at the usual time for breakfast. I toasted and ate the bagel I bought yesterday in Tzefat with Jen. It was amazing. Since a lot of people chose to skip breakfast and sleep in, I went back to the room for awhile. We got on the bus and were left off in what seemed to be the middle of no where.

There was no bathroom and a lot of people had to use the restroom. Shabat suggested the bushes. Um no. We were asked to break up into groups and get into a jeep for a tour. Lindsey, Michelle, Ali, Ben, Jen, Ricky, and I picked the closed green one. Staci joined us and sat in the front. We had so much fun! It was so bumpy and we were falling all over each other. We saw lots of cows, ruins, mine sites, fields, etc. Our jeep driver was really funny! We passed a lot of signs that said, “Danger Mines!” The driver said that in Hebrew and in English it says danger mines, but in Arabic it says picnic area. Later on he said, “If we bust a tire the stronger sex will have to get out and push, while the men stay inside.” Ricky said something about male chauvinism and the driver told him it wasn’t chauvinism, it was the truth. He heard us talking about Will and Grace and asked us if we were all gays and lesbians. Ricky answered that we were a mix. The driver went on to say he didn’t care and that it is a free world and we can be whatever we want. We all thought that was really cool.

We stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We listened to some guy talk to us about Syria and point things out in the valley below. The view was beautiful. We took some photos and in one of them another jeep driver made us all stick out our middle fingers. I took two rocks that looked volcanic and were really cool. When we were driving back down a branch fell and was in the way of our jeep. The driver took out a big knife and just hacked it. We all thought that was kind of cool.

We got back on our bus and drove to a shoe factory Kibbutz. We had to listen to a whole long speech before we were allowed to use the bathroom. The bathrooms were nasty because they were flooded and there were only two stalls. The line was extremely long! A bunch of people bought ice cream and shoes. I just wanted to get out of there because the place gave me a horror film creepy vibe.

We then went back on the bus and drove to Mt. Avital-Mt. Bental Nature Reserve. The mountain hangs over Syria. Shabat brought us to the very tip/edge of the mountain to talk to us. It was FREEZING! There was a great view and the stories were interesting. There were black cut out people that everyone was taking pictures with, in particular Roi. The soldiers explained that the black cut outs were used to fool the enemy.

Then we went down into a bunker and I had to use my flashlight. The stairs were narrow. The passageways were very small narrow as well. We were able to congregate in a small room with walls covered in graffiti and messages. My name was written on the wall twice. Ali took one picture of me next to it. After we got out of the bunker Shabat said we were headed straight to the bus. We didn’t have time to go to the coffee shop nor were we able to stop at the shop. The bathroom was locked, which sucked. A bunch of us took pics with the big metal dinosaur.
Afterwards we drove to what Shabat called a mall. I definitely wouldn’t call it a mall. It was a grocery store, a couple of bad stores, and a food court. I went to the grocery store and bought some chocolate and cinnamon buns. The cinnamon buns were the best I have ever had!!!! I met everyone else in the food court. The Pardos had some awesome looking calzone that I had a small piece of. It had a strange taste. Jacob had some jamming fries. They were nice and crispy. After that Ali and I went to the bathroom.

We then all split into 3 groups: the political discussion group, the hike, and the circus group. Anna and Staci joined our group, which was the circus group. They had us line up by our numbers just for the fun of it. We were informed that the circus wouldn’t start for a while, so we would go to a winery first.

The winery was across the street from the mall, so we walked there. We were taken into an auditorium that was lined with wine bottles. There was a mosaic lamp in the middle of the room that looked like Aladdin’s lamp. A guy came in and introduced himself and started the movie. The movie was hosted by a genie from the lamp. The movie was educational, but it was also really interesting. It was sort of 3D and reminded me of the videos they play with movie themed rides at amusement parks. After the movie they took us to where they store the wine while it ages. It was very humid and all the barrels were red. He told us it takes 3 years to make the special barrels. Next we moved to the tasting room. We were each given a glass that I really liked. We tasted 3 wines. I tasted a sip of the first and the third. The second one smelled way too strong for me. I gave all the wine I didn’t drink to Jen, Sarah, and Hilla. The pretzels they gave us were really good. Our guide said we could keep our glass, which I was so happy about. Then we went to the gift shop and I really wanted to buy Gayla a shirt that had a big G on it. However, they only had one left and it was the wrong size. We all used the bathroom and boarded the bus.

On the bus I sat across from Hilla and Ali. Hilla bought wine for her boyfriend and Sarah bought dessert wine. They both said the wine was very cheap. It was interesting to talk to Hilla. We discussed G-d, her military service, Gaza, and her boyfriend. She said that she’s very proud to be an Israeli and to fight for her country. She said we would want to fight too if someone was always trying to take away our land. We then talked about music. She played for us a song she wrote and sang. It was really good despite the fact Ali and I didn’t know what she was saying. I played Fountains of Wayne for her. She seemed to like it, but didn’t understand what they were saying. Ali explained the lyrics to her and then we all cracked up. We were driving for a long time and Hilla really had to pee. She was really funny about it. She was cursing and bouncing in her seat. We felt like we were driving for forever. We didn’t know where the circus was located. Then Hilla pointed out that we were driving towards Haifa, which is far away from the Golan Heights. We wound up going to a place in Shorashim, which Hilla said wasn’t too far away from where she lives.

They had us listen to some really boring lecture. I didn’t pay attention to it. Ali, Hilla, and I talked for a while in the back of the room. She showed us pictures on her phone. When the lecture was over we used the bathroom, and boarded the bus.

We then drove 10 minutes away to a school. We were going to watch a group of school children who were half Arab and half Israeli perform. It wasn’t the circus we were expecting. However, it was still entertaining. Afterwards they gave us time to try some stuff out. I wanted to, but I was afraid of getting hurt. I watched Sarah on the trapeze for a while. Ali and I went in search of the bathroom because we knew we had a very long drive back. The fist bathroom was flooded, but luckily we found another one. We boarded the bus and left. I sat behind a girl who was on the phone for the whole ride complaining that she didn’t want to go to the bar later that night. She said she would have them call a doctor for her so she wouldn’t have to go. I didn’t want to go either, but I wasn’t causing a scene.

When we got back to the hotel it was really late. I realized I had the key and probably locked Rachel out this whole time. I did, but the hotel let her into the room. When I walked into my room there were so many people in it! They were all getting ready for the night. They were deciding on clothes, doing their make-up, and straightening their hair. Then they all went down to dinner, but I decided to stay in the room. I ate my cereal, tried on my clothes, got my stuff ready for the next day, and packed. I knew I wouldn’t want to pack when we got home from the bar.

After dinner the crowd came back to my room to finish getting ready. Ricky served as the fashion consultant for all the girls. I really didn’t want to go to the bar. I much rather have slept. I was exhausted! When we got to the lobby they announced that there was now an option to stay in the hotel. I wanted to take them up on it, but I didn’t want to be the only one staying behind. Josh was also thinking about staying, but the group convinced him to go. The bar wasn’t too far from the hotel so we walked there.

I spent the night dancing with Lindsey, Ben, Sara, Maddy, Emily, Deb, etc. A lot of couples were created that night. The only American song that they played was Katy Perry’s Hot n Cold. They kept playing Geo Da Silva’s Do It Like a Truck. So of course for the rest of the trip we all had that song stuck in our heads. Before we left I meant to get a picture of Ben by the Big Ben Bar sign but I forgot. I remembered on our walk back to the hotel. I said, “o well next year” and he added “in Jerusalem,” which was the common phrase during our trip: “next year in Jerusalem.” So we all cracked up.

When we got back to the hotel, Rachel and I changed and finished packing. She climbed into bed and I was just about to do the same when Sarah and Ricky came into the room. We talked for about two hours. Then Ricky said he was tired and left. I finally climbed into bed at 2am. Sarah went in and out of the room for a while after that. So much for my much needed sleep!

Categories: Asia, History, Israel, Travel, Trip with a Tour Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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