Hannah and Je together

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Thirty Ninth Day – Back to Beit Sahour

After I had breakfast at the hostel (I saw huge Korean teen group from a church), I asked the reception about the bus schedule to Jerusalem.  The lady told me 7am, 10am, 2pm, and the last one is 5pm.  I decided to go to the central bus station earlier so I got there 8:50am.  I thought I need to wait about an hour.  But when I purchased the ticket, the clerk said “The bus is now leaving.”  The bus to Jerusalem was at 9am.  If I had been ten minutes later, I would have waited a couple of hours.

My seat was 13, but before the bus departed, two soldiers got on, and asked me a favour.  A girl and boy soldiers were a couple, and their seat were 14 and 20.  They wanted to sit together.  So I moved to seat 20.  And I found that soldiers get free ride.  It takes about five hours from Eilat to Jerusalem, and throughout all five hours, the soldier couple were licking each other.

At the beginning, I sat alone having two seats which was very comfortable.  But before I got to the Dead Sea, a girl in early 20s got on the bus and sat next to me.  Then she farted, and the smell was so gross – the worst fart smell I’ve ever experienced.  I looked at her face, but she closed her eyes and pretended sleeping.

Shops close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

Shops close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

Now the travelling is easy because I already know how.  From the Jerusalem central bus station to Damascus gate by light railway.  And then to Bethlehem by Arab bus 21.  And this time, I walked home, about an hour.

Shps close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

Shops close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

The market behind the Nativity Church was open and there were people, but fewer people than usual.  And quite many of the shops were closed also.  But out of that area, almost all shops were closed and nobody on the streets.

Shops close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

Shops close on Sunday in Beit Sahour

Because it is Sunday, and there are huge Christian population in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour.  Jews rest on Saturday, Christians on Sunday.  It is said that Muslims on Friday, but most of them still work.  Unlike other places, there are huge Christian population here and also Ramallah, even though the majority is Muslim now.  Bethlehem and Beit Sahour is neighbour cities and quite small.  I walk between the two cities and it takes not even an hour.  But still the two cities have many differences.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Thirty Seventh Day – To Eilat and People of Megiddo

I’ve got my hosting family arranged through the Siraj centre, and I also applied for some activities.  And the centre emailed me that the activities were cancelled due to lack of people, and also to come to the centre on Friday to get the refund.  I went to the Siraj centre because today is the Friday.  They sent the email a week ago, and when I went to the centre, they said that the money is not ready.

So I just wasted an hour.  From the centre, I took a taxi to the bus stop in Bethlehem.  The bus goes to Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.  There I took the light railway to the central bus station.

Jerusalem Central Bus Station

Jerusalem Central Bus Station

When I went to the ticket office in the central bus station, a guy approached to me asking where I am going.

He: Hey my friend, where are you going?
Je: To Eilat.
He: All the tickets to Eilat are sold out.
Je: What? The whole day ticket?
He: Yes.  How about private transportation?
Je: How much?
He: 200.
Je: In Shekel or Dollar?  Wait, let me ask the ticket office first.

When a stranger call you a friend, that means you need to watch out and be careful.  I asked the ticket office, and it was true that the ticket was sold out, but there were lots of seats left for the following bus at 2pm.  I was more than OK to wait 2 hours rather than paying stupid amount of money.

So I went to Eilat again and stayed at the same Hostel.

I did not have a chance to write about my excavation team at Megiddo.  The Lachish excavation did not have much people because most volunteers left Israel right after the war began due to the proximity of the location to Gaza.  And finally the site was shut down.  Actually most sites in southern Israel were closed.  And more than half of them left Israel, but some people like me joined the northern sites such as Megiddo.  The UCLA students were digging at Jaffa, but they also joined Megiddo.

My team, digging the same square were mostly from UCLA.  There was a girl named Sarah, Iranian American, and 18 years old.  She is the youngest in the whole Megiddo excavation people.  She will study in George Washington University for Archaeology, and she began her expedition since 10 years old.

Another girl who I would not reveal her name was quite lazy, but extremely talkative.  Other team members told me that she works only two days a week, and that was true.  She actually worked two days a week, and she reported herself sick for the other days while she looked healthier than any other people.  She told me that recently she came out as LGBT, but is not seeing anyone yet.

Two girls from UCLA, named Vanessa and Jennah told me that they are a team and their name is Va-Jennah whose pronunciation is very similar to the lady’s sexual organ.  So I asked them if that implies that, and they said yes.  They are the very best workers at my team.

Canadians mostly left Israel or cancelled their trip to Israel, but quite many American students remained.  I guess Americans are more brave or they are used to the gun violence.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Thirty First Day – Back to Israel

So, I got on the bus at Cairo to Dahab.  And all my plan and schedule was with enough buffer, I thought.

Typical Muslim Lady

Typical Muslim Lady

I took a picture of Muslim lady who literally covers top to toe.  If I include her glasses in her covering, she covered almost all of herself.  It is not difficult to find such lady in Egypt, which is one of the most open country in Arab world.

Daewoo Bus

Daewoo Bus

This is the bus, and it is made by DAEWOO.  How many decades ago that company disappeared?

Even though I had more than enough buffer in my schedule going back, there was two big problems.  The first is from Egypt.  Even though McCormick travel group complained a lot about Israeli checkpoint, we need to admit that there is no checkpoint inside Israel territory or inside Palestine territory.  But in Egypt, there are so many checkpoints within Egyptian territory.  From Cairo to Dahab, dozens.  And from Dahab to Taba, also dozens.  I think I crossed almost 40 or 50 checkpoints from Cairo to Taba.  Half of them just stopped the bus, and check easily.  The other half checked the IDs and passports of all the passengers in the bus.  This delayed more than three hours than the schedule.  I thought I would be in Taba around 10am, but I was there at 2:30pm.

The other problem was at Israel border.  I understand the situation of war, but they checked me and many other passengers so badly.  They asked me tons of questions.

Officer: Why do you have soaps?
Je: Because I wash everyday.
Officer: What is this?
Je: It says shampoo.
Officer: Why do you have shampoos?
Je: You don’t know what the shampoo is for?
Officer: Why do you have music CD?
Je: Because I listen to music.

Then they opened my bag and suitcase, and checked every single item, even my unwashed underwear.  I warned them but they touched.  So I advised them to wash their hands before eat anything.  The Israeli border took slightly more than two hours for me.  But I met a guy from Texas who spent four hours.  This guy is actually quite annoying, and he made some racism joke to a Singapore American.

Israel side of the border

Israel side of the border

Israel side of the border is better in many ways.  First, people line up.  Yes, the exactly same people who made chaos in Egyptian side line up.  And there are many convenient facilities including water fountain (which is very precious in this hot weather), restroom, money exchange, and so on.

Anyway when I went to the central bus station in Eilat, it was about 5:10pm.  And the last bus to Jerusalem already left long time ago.  But I could not stay in Eilat.  If I depart Eilat tomorrow morning, I would be in Bethlehem in the afternoon around 3 or 4pm.  So I got on the bus to Tel Aviv.

SunCity Hotel, Tel Aviv

SunCity Hotel, Tel Aviv

When I was in Egypt, it was almost impossible to find a free WIFI.  Even the most expensive hotel in Luxor does not provide free WIFI.  The bad hotel in Cairo has free WIFI in the lobby (not in the room), but it is only ten minutes.  But in Israel it is much easier to find free WIFI.  And I realise even the inter-city bus (EGGED bus) has free WIFI!

I hit Tel Aviv at midnight.  And I went to a nearby hotel – SunCity hotel.  And the very first thing at the check-in was their instruction what to do when I hear siren because they have sirens and alarms minimum twice everyday anytime.  SunCity hotel is good one with nice staff who tries to help me as much as possible.  But the facility itself is quite old.  But I prefer this one rather than Le Meridien Hotel in Cairo where they have shiny facility with bad employees.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Thirtieth Day – Second Day in Cairo

I began today by visiting the Old Cairo, especially Christian area.

Brand New Roman Tower

Brand New Roman Tower

This is Roman Tower which is about 1500 years old, if my memory serves me right.  After seeing all the greatness and glories of three or four thousand years old Egypt, anything less than 2,000 years is brand new to me.

Hanging Church in Cairo

Hanging Church in Cairo

This is so-called hanging church which is built upon the two Roman pillars.  There are many relics and painting of St. Mark.  As Catholic regard St. Peter as their founding father, Copts regard St. Mark as their founding father.

Home of the Holy Family

Home of the Holy Family

This is the place where they believe that the Holy Family lived and hid themselves from the threat of Herod the Great.  Egyptians are very proud that they hosted the Holy Family with hospitality.

Salah Al-Din Citadel

Salah Al-Din Citadel

Then I went to Salah Al-Din Citadel.  He is well-known to the Christians too because he defeated the Crusaders.

Mosque in the Citadel

Mosque in the Citadel

This is the mosque inside the citadel.  I was told that (all) mosques have plain bottom and floor with beautiful ceiling so that they can make the people focus on their prayer.

Cairo Overview

Cairo Overview

The citadel gives a good view of Cairo.

Egyptian Cats.

Egyptian Cats.

Then I went to the oldest market in Cairo.  And look what I found!  Eventually I found Egyptian cats!  All the Egyptians told me that they have tons of cats, but I have not seen almost any.  Now in this old market, I saw several cats.

Ceiling of the Oldest Market in Cairo

Ceiling of the Oldest Market in Cairo

This is the remaining column and ceiling of the oldest market.

Revolutionary Plaza

Revolutionary Plaza

Then I went to the famous Egyptian Museum.  And right in front of it, there is a big plaza where the Egyptians began and completed their revolution.

Cairo Security

Cairo Security

McCormick Group always complained the soldiers on the streets with rifles.  How about this?

Cairo Security

Cairo Security

In Egypt, you can see not only rifles and soldiers, but also tanks and armoured military vehicles a lot.  I mean, A LOT.  They are everywhere.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

There are so many cool things inside the Egyptian Museum, but photographs are entirely forbidden inside the museum.  I could not take any.

Cairo on Fire

Cairo on Fire

One thing you can see everywhere in Cairo is the mountains of trashes where on the streets, roads, and highways.  And the smoke does not mean Cairo was under attack, but people were burning the trashes.  It is bad for the environment, and for their health too.

I went back to the hotel and rested a bit.  And when I was checking out, I had a trouble with the hotel.  I’ve never used the phone in the room and they charged me for the phone use.  Eventually I did not pay anything, but I had so bad memory about Le Meridien Hotel in Giza Cairo.  I will write another blog about the experiences in this hotel.

Nile Dinner Cruise

Nile Dinner Cruise

Then I went to the Nile Dinner Cruise.  The food was OK.  And they also charged me 15 L.E which is about $2.  Isn’t it supposed to play live music in those Cruise Dinner?  Two singers were singing but with the Karaoke machine.

I found that 80% of the people in the cruise were in a wedding reception.  It was very loud with the dancing new couple.  And actually after cruise, there was another wedding was going on in the harbour.  So I saw one wedding reception, and four weddings in Egypt.  Wow.  Is it wedding season in Egypt now?

Belly Dancer

Belly Dancer

After a while, a fat belly dancer came out and danced.  I’ve never seen such an abundant belly dancer in my entire life.  I thought the Muslim women would hate this kind of things, but actually almost all ladies (covering top to toe) were taking video of the belly dancer dancing.

Spinning Skirt Dancer

Spinning Skirt Dancer

Then a guy wearing double skirts did spin-dancing for more than ten minutes.  He spun without resting for ten minutes and he was not dizzy.  Amazing.

Bus to Dahab

Bus to Dahab

Then I went to the East Delta Bus station to go back to Israel overnight.  But I found that there is no direct bus from Cairo to Taba.  In most undeveloped countries, internet information is always out of date.  I was told from the ticketing guy that they used to have direct bus to Taba, but after they got terror on that bus (where Korean tourists were killed), the government shutdown the line.  But the websites still says the bus runs from Cairo to Taba.

They say that the bus would arrive at Dahab at 7.  From Dahab to Taba takes little more than two hours.  So let me say I will be at Taba at 10.  Crossing the border would take 30 minutes.  So I will be in Eilat around 11.  From Eilat to Jerusalem takes five hours.  And I will be in Jerusalem at 4pm.  To Bethlehem less than an hour.  So I may be in the hosting house hopefully 6pm or at least 9 or 10pm tomorrow.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Twenty Seventh Day – Bus to Cairo

Today was very long day, spent most time in Buses.  I got up at five and checked out the Hostel in Eilat.  They packed me breakfast, which I ate for breakfast and also for lunch due to the huge amount of food.

Taba Egyptian Border

Taba Egyptian Border

Because the bus to the border runs from 8am, I had to get a cab.  Israeli exit border was OK, and everybody was in line, everything was in order.  I just paid big money for border passenger fee.  But as soon as I crossed over to the Egyptian border, it was total chaos.  There was no line at all, people were yelling and screaming.  Even the officers yelling at the people.  Sometimes people argued with loud yelling voice with the officers.  There was no line at all.  I have no other words but ‘total chaos.’  I spent about fifteen minutes at Israeli side, but I spent more than two hours in Egyptian side.  But I finally got the Sinai permit, with which I can stay only in Sinai peninsula.

Sherut to Sharm

Sherut to Sharm

Because I need to get the Egyptian Visa, I had to go to Sharm International Airport.  But anyway there was no direct bus to Cairo even though I had the visa.  The Egyptian Consulate General in Eilat opens at 9:30am, then I waste a day.  But if I get the visa at Sharm International Airport, I just waste couple of hours.  Thanks to the chaos in Egyptian border, I spent more than two hours and the bus to Sharm already gone.  The next bus is at 11am.  And I got a Sherut to Sharm, which turned out to be better eventually.

Mountain Area on the way to Sharm near Red Sea

Mountain Area on the way to Sharm near Red Sea

The sherut driver drove as if there is no centre line.  I did not see the Mount Sinai but passed around that.  When I saw the mighty mountains, I thought it is not strange even if a guy tells me that God came upon any of those mountains.

Sharm International Airport

Sharm International Airport

I went to the Sharm International Airport, but the immigration officer refused to give me the visa, but said that I have to apply through any Egyptian Travel agency.  The Sherut driver helped me to get the visa by introducing me a travel agent.  And he waited for me and gave me ride to the bus station for $10.  The other taxi drivers called $25.  While we were waiting for the agent, he said that Jewish Torah and Christian Bible were hand written, but Coran literally fell from the heaven.  And he said “Fucking Hamas,” which is the expression that I heard the most from the Egyptians today.

One thing I notice is that Russian sign everywhere.  And the Sherut driver confirmed me that Russians are the most tourists in Egypt.

Business Class Bus to Cairo

Business Class Bus to Cairo

I rode the Go Bus to Cairo.  When I bought the ticket at the booth, the guy asked me if I want Business class or economic class.  The price was almost double, but I was curious about the business class of the bus, so I paid 160 Egyptian Pound (L.E).  Well, the bus has its own flight attendant, I would say the crew.  And it has large legroom, and it also provides meal, not to mention bottomless coffee or tea.

Egyptian Checkpoint

Egyptian Checkpoint

McCormick Group experienced the Israeli Checkpoints and we complained a lot.  I have to say, that was nothing.  Actually, there was no checkpoint inside Israeli territory or West Bank.  The checkpoints are on the border of them.  We experienced the checkpoint when we went into West Bank and came back to Israel.  But in Egypt, there were dozens of checkpoints, probably every twenty minutes.  It was the same from Taba to Sharm, and from Sharm to Cairo.  And even the Egyptians have tanks and armoured military vehicles at the checkpoints.  Some places, they placed machine guns on top of the hills.

Nothing to See on the way to Cairo

Nothing to See on the way to Cairo

The scene on the way to Cairo was mostly boring.  That was just nothing but dry sands.  This experience is good for just once.

The bus finally arrived at Cairo.  And a taxi driver approached me, so I asked how much it would be to Le Meridien Hotel in Giza Pyramids Cairo.  He said 100 L.E, so I got on.  Then I found that it is not a taxi.  The car does not have windshield wipers, engine was knocking.  He turned the music as loud as it hurts my ears.  And all the cars in Cairo ignore the lanes, and drive crazy dizzy.  Right after he began to drive, he said I have to pay 150 L.E – 100 for going and 50 for him to come back to the bus station.  A month ago, I would pay just saying, “Oh really?”  But now, I am trained by the Palestinians:

Je: No, you said 100.
He: OK, then 125.
Je: No, you didn’t say anything about that. You said 100. Don’t LIE.
He: OK, 100.

And when we arrived at the hotel, he said I must tip him 50 because 100 is for the car, and 50 is for him.  And I repeated the above conversation.

Le Meridien Hotel, Giza Pyramids Cairo

Le Meridien Hotel, Giza Pyramids Cairo

Le Meridien Hotel is nice hotel, but I am not happy with it for couple of reasons.  First, they advertise Free Wi-Fi, but I have to pay for the Wi-Fi if I want to use in the room.  It is only free at the lobby.  Second, Hotels in Israel, the online price includes everything, but this hotel includes nothing.  For example, Gloria Hotel says $110.  Then I pay $110.  Eilat Hostel says $30.  Then I actually pay $30.  But here, they say online $78.60 but when I pay, they charge me $99.  Third, it is too far from downtown Cairo.  I didn’t know it is this far.

Well, today, I trod the African soil for the first time.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Second Holy Land Trip – Twenty Sixth Day – Eilat and Red Sea

Not like the other day, I got up at five (one more hour sleep!).  And reported to the excavation office so that they know I will not be here any more and also they called a cab.

Double Deck Israel Railway Train

Double Deck Israel Railway Train

I went to the Pades-Hannah railway station.  And on the way while in the cab, I saw two girls sitting on the bench of a bus stop.  One girl is a Muslim because she was wearing and covering top to toe except small part of her face.  The other girl was in IDF (Israel army) uniform.  They were talking and laughing together.  I do not know whether they just met at the bus stop or have been friends for long.  But the scene was very emotional to me, especially at this time of war between Israel and Gaza, killing each other.  I saw hope, and I saw a bright future from them.

This is my first time to get on the Israel train.  And to my surprise, it is double-deck!  My train trip was from Hannah to Tel Aviv.

Are these founders of Tel Aviv?

Are these founders of Tel Aviv?

And I came to Tel Aviv, the economic capital of Israel.  One thing I do not like about Israel is that they do not announce in English at all, not in a bus nor in a railway trains.  Korean buses and subways always announce in English.

I had some problem finding where to get on the bus number 25 so that I can go to Egyptian Embassy.  I asked a girl on the street, and she was with a lady.  The lady called bus company and asked how to go to Egyptian embassy.  She spoke in Hebrew but I understood one word – Mitzraim, which is Egypt.

Again, the bus driver does not speak English, but also again, I got help from a passenger.  When I went to the Egyptian embassy, it was closed without any notice.  There was no notice in their website too.  The guard their just said, “tomorrow” whatever I asked.  So I asked:

Je: Is “tomorrow” the only word you know?
He: Yes, yes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I guess it is some kind of Egyptian holiday.  So I went to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, and bought the ticket to Eilat.  I bought the ticket at 9:33 and was told that the bus left three minutes ago.  Next bus is 11am.  Well, what can I do?

Highway Stop before Beersheva

Highway Stop before Beersheba

McCormick Group, do you remember here?  We stopped here last January when we were going to Beersheba.  Today we also stopped here before we hit Beersheba.  This was the first Aroma that I tasted, and was good.

Negev Desert

Negev Desert

The bus ride was almost five hours.  And the scene of the Negev desert was just wow.

Fish on  the Road

Fish on the Road

When I got to Eilat, the heat from the ground was great.  And there were many fish marks on the road.

Fish Statue in Eilat

Fish Statue in Eilat

And also many fish statues.  Eilat is the southmost city of Israel, and just before Eilat, we passed the checkpoint.  And McCormick group already experienced, two soldiers with semi-auto rifle came on board.  Maybe because of war, almost half of the bus passengers were in IDF uniform, and half of them were with semi-auto rifles.

Eilat Youth Hostel and Guest House

Eilat Youth Hostel and Guest House

I walked to the hostel and it was just 10 minutes but I was sweating like Niagara Falls.  The Eilat Youth Hostel and Guest House has very nice view.  You can see the Red Sea from the picture above.  This room is shared by five people and breakfast is served.  I booked via Booking.com and paid $30, and I got to know if you book directly, the cost is 120 NIS which is $40.

Red Sea is blue

Red Sea is blue

There is a sea and who can endure the temptation of the sea in this piping hot weather?  This is the Red Sea which Moses cut in half (but of course not at this spot).  I do not understand why the name is Red Sea.  It looks like Blue Sea to my eyes.

Because I could not go to the Egyptian Embassy or Consulate General, I will go to the border early in the morning.

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