Friday, June 28, 2013

A new fruit

Spoiler - it's just a different kind of plum. And it's not really as good as the regular kind.  But I'm glad I tried it so it can go on my list of new foods that I tried this year.  It's green on the outside and yellow on the inside.  Here's a not-great picture of one:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jellyfish at the beach :(

Apparently it is now the season of jellyfish at the beach.  This is bad news, because it's also now the season of perfect beach weather all the time.  The jellyfish are HUGE, too.  And besides the huge jellyfish, there are also lots of tiny things that sting or bite you in the water, so even if you can avoid the jellyfish, you're not safe.

People like to usher them out of the water, either because they are trying to help other people not get stung, or because they just enjoy it, or want to seem brave, or something.  It turns out that you can touch them on the top without getting stung.  The only dangerous parts are the tentacles, but those are plenty dangerous, I hear.  All of this results in some guys in their teens and twenties grabbing jellyfish (which I gather are quite heavy, based on their size and and waterlogged-ness, besides being quite slimy) and hauling them out of the water.  Once they get them onto the beach, the kids take over, throwing sand and rocks at them.  I'm not sure this last part helps.

Here are some jellyfish we saw at the beach last weekend in various stages of the process.  There were a ton of them:

Oh also, we touched them.  Gross!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Air Conditioner Saga

Long story short, we now have a working air conditioner, and it's great.  But it was a bit rocky to get there...

One day last week, I came home from work to discover that the door to our apartment was open.  I went in and found that there were a couple of guys installing an air conditioner.  This wasn't a total surprise because I had seen them doing it on the lower floors on the preceding days, but it was still quite a surprise because I thought the landlord (who we see multiple times a day) would have mentioned to one of us that the guys would be coming to install the air conditioner that day.  Anyway, since we didn't realize that it would be air conditioner installation day, we didn't think to take or put away our valuables or passports, nevermind wash the dishes and put away the dirty clothes that somehow keep accumulating around the room.  Or, for that matter, provide our own dropcloth.  Who knew we would need to do that?

So I got home and found that they had moved a bunch of our stuff around, and there was a brief period of panic when I couldn't find the Kindle or our passports.  It turned out that the landlord had put them in a drawer on our nightstand, which was fine - once I found them, anyway.  Furthermore, they were using our bed sheet - yes, really - as a dropcloth to cover the desk from the dust and stuff that falls when you're drilling a hole through the exterior wall of a building.

We complained to the landlord - shouldn't the installation guys bring their own dropcloth?  And if they used our sheet, shouldn't the building reimburse us for laundering our own sheet that they used?  Turns out no.  She did offer us a new set of sheets, but when we opened them we found that it was just a bottom sheet and pillowcases, which was exactly not what we needed, since those were still on the bed.

Oh well, at least that night we had a working air conditioner, right?  Well, no.  They only got halfway through the project before quitting for the day, so all the construction debris was on the ground, the windows were left out of the place where you would like your windows to be and were instead against the fridge, and the desk was left blocking the door to the bathroom.

So the next day, of course after they finished installing the air conditioner we had working air conditioning, right?  Still no.  Check this out:

Sigh.  We got back too late from swimming to ask the landlord for an extension cord.  Finally the next day we asked her for one and she got it for us!  Woohoo, working air conditioning!  And it does work, so well.  It's quiet and it comes with a remote control and it really cools off the room.  And best of all, it means that we don't have to leave the (screenless) windows open and get eaten by bugs all night!  Here is the final result:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cool trees

On our cross-country hike, we saw some really cool trees with red peely bark.  I looked it up online, and I think they're called madrone trees.  Underneath the red bark is green bark.  This photo doesn't really show how red they are:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Look who showed up at work yesterday

I couldn't believe how big this caterpillar was!  Someone at work put it in a tupperware sort of container with some air holes and some leaves and was taking it around for everyone to see.  Check it out!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Walk across a country? Check!

Though we didn't really know what we were getting into at the time, Caroline and I decided that we would do a 4-day trek from the Mediterranean Sea on the west side of Israel, to the Sea of Galilee on the east side of Israel. If you're thinking to yourself "that sounds hard" or "you guys might not be prepared for that" then you are correct.

The hike is called Yam el Yam, which means sea to sea. Hiking is very popular in Israel, and we thought this would be a good way to take part in the national pastime by hiking across the country - in the shorter direction. There is also an Israel National Trail that goes in the north-south direction, but that takes around 4-6 weeks so there was no chance we were going to do that.

There is so much to tell about experience. We learned a lot about hiking, a lot about preparation and planning, a lot about taking risks, a lot about Israel and a lot about ourselves and our relationship.

For some reason, during the hike I found myself making little mental lists, so I'm going to write about the trip that way. As always, we have a zillion pictures, more than we can post on the blog. If you want to browse through all the photos yourself, go here.

Top 5 things we were REALLY glad that we brought on the hike:

1. Enough food that we didn't worry.

This is the food that we had at the end of Day 2. This might seem like a lot of extra weight, and at this point I thought so too. But on Day 3 we were very glad we had packed it. Day 3 was Friday, and we had aimed to make it to Tzfat before Shabbat started to buy more food. Unfortunately, we had taken a wrong trail earlier that day, and by the time we were close to Tzfat it was too late (Tzfat is a religious city so everything closes for Shabbat starting around 3pm). We camped out that night without replenishing our food supply, and while we weren't anywhere close to going hungry, let's just say we were quite sick of almonds by the time we found a place to buy food the next afternoon!

2. Head lamps

I think the absolute highlight of the hike was the Ein Tamir water tunnel that we explored mid-way through the first day. We arrived an area with lots of school groups bathing in the spring water pools, but luckily for us they left the coolest part alone. There was a narrow fissure in the rock on the side of one pool, and after squeezing through we found ourselves in a long, narrow tunnel with water up to our knees. It was slow going, but we made our way through twists and turns for about 20m or more. If we hadn't brought the headlamps, we never could have made it past the first turn because the light completely disappears. With the lights, it was an amazing experience to explore!
This picture shows a lot of the cool parts - the ceiling sometimes got so low that you almost had to be submerged to get through; the water was amazingly clear so you could see the bottom perfectly; and the water was REALLY cold too, as you might be able to tell from Caroline's expression :)

3. The map
Israel has zillions of designated hiking trails all over the country, and when you are on one of these trails, the signage is pretty good. As you walk, you see little colored strips on a white square indicating which path you are on, and markings when there is a split as well. The picture above shows a place where a blue trail splits off from the black trail we'd been on (and you can see how relieved I am to find it!). All the time that we were on a marked trail, it was pretty easy to make our way.

However, we sometimes needed to make a connection between two trails through an unmarked area, or we needed to find our way into and out of villages off the trail where we got food and water. This experience taught me that Google Maps might be pretty great, but sometimes a good old fashioned paper map is the best tool for the job. At plenty of times, Google Maps showed us standing in the middle of a big green area on the map with no markings at all, whereas our paper map showed details like little dirt paths, elevation changes, types of vegetation cover and more. This was a special hiking/terrain map from some outdoors-y organization in Israel. There are around 9 of them covering the whole country; we used map #2 for our trip covering the Upper Galilee.

4. Toilet Paper
I don't need to explain this one :) But we almost forgot to pack this and only remembered to grab a roll as we were walking out the door to start the trip. Phew!

5. The tent

The weather is really warm in Israel this time of year. Here in Haifa it's pretty steadily mid-80s during the day and right around 70 at night. A few people told us that because it is so warm, we could probably camp out in sleeping bags without the tent at night. We really considered it in order to save a little weight in our bags. I had once camped out on the bank of the Dead Sea with my brother with no tent, so it sounded reasonable.

In the end, we decided to bring the tent, and THANK GOODNESS. Because we were hiking up into elevation, it was actually pretty cold the first two nights, to the point that I had to put on a few layers of dirty clothes in order to stay warm enough, even with a tent and a sleeping bag. It would have been really unpleasant without a tent.

Besides that, we also found ourselves up close and personal with a lot of animals during the hike, including this guy, who we found immediately outside our tent when we woke up on Day 4:

After the hike, I showed this picture to a few Israelis and everyone agrees that this is the not-so-dangerous variety of scorpion. Apparently the dangerous ones are more yellow or tan in color, and live in the desert. Still, everyone agreed that it's a lot better to find this guy outside your tent than right next to you with no tent!

That's it for this list. I have a lot more list posts to write, including:

  • Lessons we learned on the hike
  • Best sights along the hike
  • Most delicious things we ate
  • Animals we saw or heard
And more! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hi Uncle Mike!

We have been informed that you are one of our most dedicated readers, so here's a special post for you!  Sorry there haven't been many new posts lately, we'll get back on track soon!

Monday, June 10, 2013

On our hike, we saw one of these

This is a wild boar, and for a size reference, it's almost as tall as a deer, and it looks like a bear when it's a few meters away from you.  But luckily there are no bears in Israel, so we at least knew it wasn't a bear.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Question: How did we end up on a bus from Ginosar with the Haifa kids' sailing team?

Answer:  We did a 4-day hike called Yam el Yam (Sea to Sea), which went from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee.  When we got there, we found that there was a big group of kids wearing shirts that said Haifa, so in true Israeli fashion, we asked if we could get a ride on their bus to go back to Haifa, and they said yes!  We made it back safe and sound to our apartment, and much faster than we would have if we had taken the regular buses.

I'll post much more about the hike in the next few days.  Pictures coming soon!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Suggestion for Israel: get screens for the windows

There have been so many little (and big) things that have been different from what we're used to in Chile and Israel.  One that's on my mind right now because I have a ton of itchy bug bites is screens on the windows.  Israel, I suggest to you that you get some screens for your windows.  It's almost always hot enough in our apartment that we want to have the windows open, but it means that tons of mosquitoes are always flying in and trying to eat us.  We kill them when we can, but nonetheless we're both covered in mosquito bites.

Chile also didn't have screens on the windows, but believe it or not, they also almost entirely didn't have bugs, so it didn't matter.  I think I got maybe 2 bug bites the entire time we were in Chile, despite being there in the equivalent seasons of the year.

Of course, the US also has bugs, at least in the Northeast, but we have the sense to have screens on the windows so that we don't have to worry the entire time we're sleeping about getting eaten alive in our beds.

Well, there are many things I'll miss about our trip when it's over, but there are some things to look forward to too.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A wonderful video that Sam found

Sam found this wonderful and adorable video of a kid realizing where his food comes from.  It took me another decade beyond this kid's age to realize the same thing, so good for him!  I hope he sticks with it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A haul video from the Haifa shuk (or farmer's market)

I think this is what a real haul video looks like...

Back in Chile, we did a post with a haul video showing off all the fruits and veggies we bought at La Vega Mercado (man, it's weird to think in Spanish now...). Here in Haifa, we've managed to find an apartment just 2 blocks from the city's market, or shuk שוק in Hebrew.

We do almost all our shopping there, except for a few things that we buy from a somewhat sketchy Russian grocery store nearby. What makes it sketchy? Let's just say that they only have 3 aisles, and one of those aisles is the vodka aisle.

So, without further ado, here is a haul video from the shuk in Haifa. You can learn the names of some fruits and vegetables in Hebrew, and also get a glimpse of the awesome cucumbers they have here in Israel.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Must-see photos from Petra

For those of you who check Google +, you've already seen these photos. But if you haven't seen them on Google+, here are a lot more pictures from our trip to Petra, including captions!

Monday, June 3, 2013

More pictures from Akko

Here are the photos from the second half of the day in Akko.  The first stop on the second half of the day was an art museum whose name started with an O, but which I obviously can't remember.  This is what you see when you walk in:

Some legs with no body.  Sort of disorienting, huh?  There were also a lot of paintings.  Here's one of the ones I liked more:

Then we went to what I think was the main attraction.  It's this huge complex called the Citadel, which is primarily part of the Hospitallers complex, which had a prison, banquet halls, and of course a hospital area.  Here's the outside:

A lot of it was under restoration, so that was a bummer.  But you could touch some of the old things, which I always like to do:

The ceilings were really cool to look at:

In the courtyard, there was a big staircase that was impressive to look at:

This is a view of the great hall, which I think they're restoring in an effort to get people to have weddings there:

I don't think they'll want wedding guests to use the original toilets, though:

We had a hard time finding it, but there was a cool narrow tunnel to the crypt:

There was some cool old engraved stones, which were possibly tombstones, which we could also touch:

Here's the information about that one:

Akko (also known as Acco, Acre, etc.) has a flag:

At the end of the day, we went to a tiny museum called Treasures in the Wall.  I'm not sure what it had to do with anything else at the site, because it was mainly a bunch of stuff from around the time Israel was founded (1948) and the century or so leading up to that time.  I liked this hat making station (you couldn't actually make your own hat, it was just for looking):

My favorite part is the hat mold on the left.  I'm not sure exactly how it works, but you can tell exactly what it is!  There was an old sewing machine (another picture for my mom):

Here it is for its close-up:

I also liked this jewel scale, shown in use:

In our collection of oddly-sized doors, here's one so skinny that Sam might not even be able to squeeze through it:

This table looks pretty,  but the white parts are made of bone, so don't like it too much:

Some beautiful Persian copper utensils plated with enamel:

Sam is getting ready to fire the cannon:

The view back towards Haifa.  You can see the end of the land near the middle of the picture, and that's Haifa:

And here's a view back towards the city of Akko.  You might be confused about how there are boats in the parking lot.  Well actually, we're out on a jutting out point of land that has an inlet where those boats are parked.  Nothing to worry about!

We walked back to the main street to get a shared taxi back to Haifa, and passed this interesting structure:

I'm not sure what it is.  So that was our day in Akko!  If it sounds like a busy day, then I would like to inform you that when we got back to Haifa, we then went to swim practice and then to a dinner and game night with some of Sam's friends from the Technion, which we didn't even get home from until 2am!  On a work night!  Not my favorite plan, but it was fun until the next morning when I had to wake up for a meeting :)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I took too many pictures in Akko

Last weekend we went to Akko, which is a very very very old city.  According to Wikipedia, the first settlers there were around 3000 BC, and it's one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the region.

We took a shared taxi to get there from Haifa, which was pretty easy and cost 14 shekels each one way (just under $4 each).  Then we walked to the old city and passed this cool thing on the way there:

Approaching the old city, there were some cool shapes on the walkway along the beach.  There was an octopus:

And a starfish (Mom, I thought you would like this):

And a bunch more.  They had a lot of creative sea-themed ideas.  Here's a view of the approach to the old city, where you can see some more modern walls around it in the background:

Here's a close-up of that statue.  I'm not sure what's going on with it, and now that I think about it, I'm not sure why I didn't stand in front of it and do the same thing.  Is it punching an octopus?

The Acco Lighthouse:

A cute little church peeking over a wall:

The city is surrounded on 3 sides by water, so they only needed to build 1 wall to protect it from the land side.  But there are still walls on some of the water sides.  Here's Sam standing on one:

From standing on there you can also see the top of one of the many mosques in the old city.  I don't know why, but it seems like they're always green.  I suspect green has some significance in Islam.  But I thought it was also funny how much technology was on the roof.  You can see solar panels and a solar water heater, plus a satellite dish, among the things I can identify:

The first official tourist thing we did was the Templars Tunnel.  I think this was used way back when to sneak soldiers and horses and supplies in from the secret part of the port into the walled city.  But be careful, because:

Here's Sam about to enter the tunnel:

Here I am demonstrating the need to bend:

Inside the tunnel:

I forget what this place was called, and it was closed so I took this picture through the gate.  But I think it was a big marketplace during the time it was used:

A big open area where you can see the green roofs and towers of two more mosques:

A funny spelling of falafel:

We got recommendations of where to eat from my coworker Hadas.  One of the places she recommended was closed because it was Saturday (Shabbat), so we ate at the other one, called Hummus Suhila.  It was quite good, and it was the first time we had had hot hummus!  We got one with chickpeas and one with mushrooms and onions.  The mushroom one was more delicious:

We went into the fanciest mosque in the old city.  Luckily I had anticipated this and dressed sufficiently modestly (long skirt and shoulders covered - pants would have been ok too, and I didn't need to cover my head).  Isn't it beautiful?  It looks like a tropical paradise when you're in there:

Here's their mini-mosque (probably not the technical term) where people wash their hands and feet before going into the mosque:

A view from the other direction:

The entrance to the mosque had beautiful stonework.  I always am a sucker for mosaic things!

Here's the inside of the mosque.  It has stained glass at the top center of each of the walls.  I don't know if this is intentional, but Sam and I were wondering if the pattern on the rug gets used for people reserving their spots for prayer, like when you have your normal parking space and it's not official but everyone in the neighborhood knows whose is whose:

A view of the side of the mosque (you can see a guy doing something - maybe meditating? - on the ground on the right side of the picture):

The ceiling of the mosque had a dome with a walkway around the inside of it.  I would like to go on a walkway inside a dome sometime, I think that would be cool:

Here I am standing in front of a tiny door in the side of the entrance.  I'm not sure why it's so tiny.  Also check out the carving in Arabic above me:

Pretty flowers outside in the courtyard:

And here's a funny-looking plant that was also there:

That was only the first half or so.  Part 2 will be coming up soon!