a letter from Israel to family & friends

I finally made it to Israel! the sydney flight departed
late so once I arrived in Bangkok the flight to Tel Aviv was already
closed, so I had to stay in Bangkok at the airport hotel for the
night/day. so what was a 21 hour flight turned into about 36!

Jerusalem is beautiful - there's a law that says all the buildings
need to be made from Jerusalem stone, from the quarries/hills
surrounding the city. so the city is really clean and the buildings
set into the hills look very picturesque. most people live in
appartments or duplex/townhouses. there's a few single family houses
but they're not as popular. they've planted lots of trees and plants
too and there's farms and vinyards on the road between tel aviv and
jerusalem so it's really green here at the moment. they've imported
eucalyptus trees also, but they've caused some problems as they suck
up all the water. (as they do in india also - they plant them on the
edge of the highways so the water from the rice paddys doesn't flood
onto the roads)

work was ok too, it was great catching up with everyone and meeting
some people I'd only spoken to on phone/email. people work from sunday
- thursday here as fri/sat is shabbath and the jewish people are not
allowed to work (or use technology etc) from sunset fri to sunset sat.
the city streets are really quiet during this time as people are at
home with their families (even the non-religious people). none of the
shops are open. I was dying for a coffee - only mcdonalds was open so
I had one there. it was the only store in the whole of the city centre
that I found to be open. the burger king was closed. I haven't seen a
starbucks yet (surprisingly!). tel aviv is apparently more active &
shops stay open as it's less religious and there's many tourists
there, though I haven't been there yet (apart from the airport
terminal, but I arrived late at night and went straight to jerusalem).
once I arrived at work they said they want me to stay for at least a
month, then see after that (might be extended again), so I'm not
leaving on 23rd anymore. this will give me more time to see other
places so that's good. I was thinking of hiring a car but I'm not sure
how I'd go driving on the other side of the road!


on friday I went to the Old City where the original Jerusalem was
based. over the centuries the walls have moved as the city expanded
and different regimes ruled the country. I had an Arabic guide for the
day so he explained the different places. I saw the Western Wall from
the buildings above- it wasn't too crowded. the left side is for men
and (smaller) right side is for women. the cemetary on the hill above
is apparently the most expensive in the world as the people buried
there will be first to rise to the promised land. (I'm a bit rusty on
my bible stories). I did the walk of the stations of the crucifixion
of Jesus and went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus
was removed from the cross and then buried in the tomb. they let
people take photos in there - though I didn't use the flash (as it's
usually bad for the artworks) so some are a bit dark. I'll have to go
back another day to explore the Old City streets and lanes some more.
people still live there - apparently the real estate is very expensive
in there so most of the houses are people who've had them in the
family for generations. there's markets, and many visitors/pilgrims so
it's quite active.

it's really hot here also, so I've got a touch of sunburn at the
moment despite putting on the 30+ sunscreen. the sun is really hot &
strong here (it's summer at the moment).

yesterday afternoon, I went for a drive and to dinner at a friend from
work M's place with his family at his wife's parents place.
they live at Ashkelon which is about 45mins outside Jerusalem. it's
about 15km from Gaza. we went for a drive to the beach & marina there.
we were going to go to the national park where the samson & delilah
story took place, but they were charging tourist prices of US$40 entry
fee which was a bit outrageous. (unless the price was lost in
translation! & it was 40 shekels ~ AU$12). he showed me where one of
the missiles had landed in the suburb near a sports field, though it
was behind a fence so you can't really see anything. we didn't go to
the border though. (apparently the missile range/flight distance is
about 12km and they're being sent all the time). one of the photos
shows the power station at Ashkelon at the beach. apparently this is
the (one of the?) target but the missiles can't reach it. there's
appartments about 5km up the beach that are for sale for US$60K which
is really cheap for seafront property. I asked if it was due to being
so close to gaza but Marom said no, it's just a cheap suburb. probably
in 10 years they'll be worth a fortune! there's a new marina there.
and lots of blocks of appartments about 7 stories here.

d, I asked about not being able to put your head under the water
at the dead sea, & u were right, you can't do it or it will burn your
face & eyes. apparently there's a story of Sylvester Stallone doing it
whilst here shooting a movie (one of the rambo films?) and he had to
be taken to hospital afterwards. so if I make it there and go in the
water to float I won't be putting my head under. apparently you can
only spend max 20mins in it. though they have spas which you can go to
that are more controlled and safer (similar to the hot springs/spas in
rotorua/NZ).

there's (lots of) photos at the links below - I have more to upload
from today and yesterday afternoon. and I'm sure there'll be more over
the next few weeks!

http://flickr.com/photos/aliak_com/tags/jerusalem/

http://flickr.com/photos/aliak_com/tags/jerusalemoldcity/

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