Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Holiday in Israel

Unbelievably, this is my first blog post in almost three and a half years - the last one being when I had just bought my apartment in Stavanger. Since then, Tonys moved in, we've sold the apartment, and moved to Oslo where we've bought a new apartment - how much has happened!

Well, this post is not to reminisce about the past - well, thats not strictly true - to be more specific, not the distant past, but rather the quite recent past - our first holiday to Israel and specifically Tel Aviv which Tony and I visited between 4 and 14 April.  We arrived safe 'n sound back in Oslo on Tuesday after a fantastic 10 days in Israel. For those that haven't yet been there, we can highly recommend it! Credits to Tony for the photos in this post.

We left Oslo on the 4th at around 18:00 and arrived in Tel Aviv in the early hours (03:00) after a small stop over in Istanbul. Luckily for us (and even more so one the way back), one of the benefits work provides (plus a guest) is access to a range of airport lounges, which is a real life saver during airport stop-overs. Its the first time I've tried it out - basically a quite area with sofas, newspapers, showers and best of all - free food and refreshments :)

The rather comfortable Oslo airport lounge
Our hostess had graciously offered to stay up for us, so we were able to get a taxi straight from the airport to the apartment we had booked via air-bnb. It was pretty much as shown in the pictures (link), in a quite back street, but just around the block from an area filled with restaurants, 24 hour shops and of course, the beach. Only negative was that it was somewhat dark/chilly in the apartment and that there were a lot of stray cats in the neighbourhood (in Tel Aviv for that matter), which can make quite a din at night if you like to sleep with the windows open! She gave us info on best places to go, and then at around 04:30 we finally managed to get into bed.

The next morning we went exploring Tel Aviv. I must say it felt quite like being in Cape Town  (minus Table mountain) being very cosmopolitan. The atmosphere is very laid-back and there is a beach-holiday feeling permeating the air. Most people walk around in t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops (it was a Saturday - so like our Sunday - for them Sunday is the first day of the working week). It was warm, but not hot, we had a nice sea breeze, and people we talked to were very friendly and English was no problem. Really great. 

The beach in Tel-Aviv
The town itself is nothing spectacular from an architecture standpoint, being quite a modern-ish city. There are huge, glass skyscrapers downtown in the commercial part, and a lot of whats called the bauhaus style in the residential areas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus). Parts of the city are very modern, while a lot of other areas look like they've been neglected (at least on the exterior) for the past 30 years or so - so quite a mix. Another thing to notice was how the residents love their pets - there must be around one dog to every third household it seems from the amount of people out walking their dogs. Then there are stray cats - literally everywhere. Not sure why this is, but they are not vicious or anything, as they seem to get fed by the old folk, much like people throw crumbs for birds to eat. We walked a great deal and Tony was able to get quite a number of photos.

The next day Tony had a bit of a cold and decided to stay in while I went to the beach. Close to where we stayed was the "religious beach" with alternate days for men and woman, and then there was the dog beach, and finally the "normal" beach with many people playing a sort of ball and bat game. It was maybe somewhat early in the season to swim, but I managed a quick dip, which was certainly warmer than the time Jedz and I tried swimming in Stavanger!

Walking along the promenade in Tel-Aviv
With Tony feeling better, we went down to the old port town (by old I mean really old - settled something like 7500 BCE) called Jaffa, which is to the south of Tel-Aviv, but in the same municipality. One can either catch a bus or a type of minibus taxi with a standard fee of approx R20. It has a busy market (Tony really liked this as there were a good many opportunities to get some nice street photos of the merchants) and a lot of shops catering to tourists. For its age, it is in remarkably good nic - very clean and so on - so I guess a lot of money has been poured in to restore it.

Port of Jaffa with Tel-Aviv in the background
Fishermen along the pier in Jaffa
On one of the next days we took the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which took a little over 1 hour. We were dropped off at the central station, which is not in the old city of Jerusalem, so it took us some time to figure out how to make our way to the old city gates. Eventually we found a very modern tram service that took us directly to whats called the Damascus gate in about 10 minutes. One enters old-Jerusalem by passing through one of the gates in the old city - ours entered via the Muslim quarter (the other quarters being Christian, Jewish and Armenian). 

Entrance to the old city of Jerusalem via the Damascus gate
The muslim quarter seemed to be one huge market along narrow streets. It was very busy and a lot of merchants trying to unload their wares - a lot of food, spices, fruits, sweets, bread, toys for kids, textiles, you name it! Its really a bit of a maze, so we decided to just go along with it and see where we landed up, which for us was the Austrian hospice. I had heard about this before, and of its amazing rooftop view, so we headed up, and true enough, one gets a fantastic view over the old town as well as the temple mount where the old temple was supposedly built. 

View from the Austrian Hospice - rooftops of old Jerusalem
View from the Austrian Hospice - Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
After a refresher of apple strudel and coffee, we made our way to the Wailing wall which is divided in two sections, one for men, and the other for woman. Rather strange to see the people muttering to the wall and swaying back and forth, but hey, thats religion for you! 

The Wailing Wall - supposedly part of the foundation of the old temple
We saw there was a queue of people waiting in a line not far from us and so we joined, which we found out was the line up to Temple mount to see the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. After close to an hour we got to the front only to be asked for our passports (which, having done no research at all, we didnt bring with us!). Fearing we would be turned away we showed our bank cards which in Norway have ones picture printed on the reverse. It took some convincing saying this was the only ID we had in Norway - but eventually the security let us in - whew! We made our way up, but had only 20 minutes left to view the rather large area, as its only open to non-muslims a select few hours a day. The Dome of the Rock is indeed quite something to see with the sun reflecting off its golden dome and its beautiful blue tiled surface. Non-muslims aren't able to go inside which was disappointing, but we did walk around the top part of the complex before security started ushering the non-muslims out of the area.

Me on Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock in the background
Next we walked into the Jewish quarter, which was completely different to the Muslim quarter. It was much more residential and one could see there had been spent a lot of money on restoration as it seemed to be very well preserved and the cobbled streets were almost spotless. On the flip side, this also made the area somewhat less interesting as well. We went for lunch, and got rather ripped off we felt with a not very good meal. After walking through the streets a bit more we decided we had enough and made our way back. Overall impression was that it was interesting from a historical and architectural viewpoint, but it was very busy with lots of tourists and the arabs trying to rip them off, that we got a bit gatvol of it. Certainly quite different to Tel-Aviv.

Jewish kids playing in the street in Jerusalem
The next day we booked ourselves on a guided bus tour down to Masada and the Dead Sea that started bright and early. It was a bit pricey at $115 each, but with transport taken care of and a guide telling one the history, it was actually worth it. We went via Jerusalem, so the trip to Masada took maybe four hours. Half an hour out from Jerusalem, past a mountain range, the landscape changes dramatically - and you find yourself in whats called the desolation - dry desert all around with sandy hills rising maybe 200 to 300 meters above one - its very pretty in its bleakness. The Dead sea eventually comes into view - shimmering like a blue and green gemstone. There are actually two seas - one the "alive" dead sea, which still receives water naturally, and another "dead" dead sea, where water is pumped in from the other side due to evaporation which separated the two parts. Apparently the sea is losing about 1m in level each year, and the area around it is strictly controlled due to the danger of sinkholes on its banks.

Our first stop was a marketing stop over at a kibbutz which produces cosmetics from the Dead Sea mud. Not very interesting. Next we went to Masada, where, after looking at a short documentary about the history of the fort, we took the cable car up to the top.The fortress was built on a hilltop perhaps 300m high by king Herod the Great, in a very dramatic landscape - quite breathtaking to behold really! The story of the place is almost as dramatic as the setting - in 73 CE, the romans laid siege to the fortress to crush the last remaining jewish rebels who had fled there. After 6 months the romans had managed to build a ramp up and breached the walls, only to find that all the close to 1000 inhabitants had committed mass suicide rather than surrender. Its quite something to stand on the old walls of the fortress looking down on the remains of the roman camps on the ground below and think of what the Jews must have thought on that fateful day so long ago!

View from Masada. Looking down on the remains of a Roman camp
After this we headed down again and were driven to the dead sea where we got into our cozzies and proceeded to rub ourselves with the thick, slightly rocky, grey mud they had in barrels on the beach - apparently with all the minerals in the dead sea, the sediment is meant to be quite beneficial for ones skin. Its a bit nasty to think of all the hundreds of thousands of tourists that have been smearing themselves with this mud over the ages, but hey, it had to be done :) After letting it dry for some time, we washed it off and then walked out into the sea (large lake) taking a lot of care not to splash, which we had been warned about several times before! After getting up to belly-button level, I just brought up my knees, and very gently you rise up and start floating on your back. We even tried just walking out as deep as we could. After getting to around chest level, your feet lift off the ground, and you're bobbing in the water - no matter how you try (without splashing), you cannot get your feet back on the ground! Floating there on ones back in the dead sea with desert and mountains all around, Israel on one side, Jordan on the other - one cannot help but feel impressed by the beauty of the landscape.  After that it was time t hit the showers and then get the bus back to Tel Aviv - what a great day!

Tony and I covered in Dead Sea mud!
The rest of the time we spent in Tel Aviv, walking the city and markets and museums. One of which was the Palmach museum on the history of the Jewish war of independence and how the state was founded. Quite interesting in that it takes the form of a movie tour where one walks through various rooms, and you are meant to feel part of a pre-Israel Defence Force "ranger" group during the late 1940s. Of course its somewhat propaganda, but thats to be expected. Another museum we enjoyed was the Tel Aviv museum of modern art which houses quite a large collection of modern work as well as older and well-known pieces by Picasso, van Gough, Klimt and others.

Tony and I enjoying the last day in Jaffa
Before we knew it it was our last day already and time to head to the airport. Unbeknown to us, it was the day of Passover, one of the biggest holidays in Israel, and so we found ourselves stuck with no public transport running to the airport! Luckily for us, we met a sympathetic taxi driver, who despite reservations about the time it would take, took pity on us and agreed to take us to the airport - whew! Luckily there was not much traffic after all, and we arrived with plenty of time, which was just as well, as Turkish Airlines seemed to be the only one operating (and hence the check-in queue was and hour and a half long!), as well as quite a thorough security check process (that said, I had no problems at all getting through on an SA passport). We arrived back in Istanbul at 23:00 that night and our flight out was the next morning at 08:00 - ouch! We went to one of the lounges again where we tried to make ourselves  a makeshift bed out of three seats strung together. This may have worked if it weren't for the over-zealous staff who vacuumed and cleaned at all hours of the morning - I swear there was a guy vacuuming the floor next to us at 3 in the morning - grrrr!

Needless to say, we were pretty zombie-fied arriving back in Oslo midday Tuesday. Fortunately work on Wednesday was only half a day, so its been a pretty soft landing since then (today is off, as well as Friday and Monday).

Ok, this is getting to be quite a long first blog. Hopefully it wont be another three years for the next one :)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

My new apartment in Norway!

Hi guys - so as you know by now - I am as of Friday a proud home owner for the first time- yeay!!!  I saw it on Wednesday, put in a bid on Friday morning, and by the afternoon, the apartment was mine! Of course, it wasn't so simple - a bidding war was involved! The Norwegian system is quite interesting, but more on that later. I will move in in mid January which is actually just in time for me, as I need to be out of my current apartment by the 20th of January.

The apartment is quite spacious - 75m2 with a lock-up storage room and underground parking space and has two bedrooms. It was built in 2002, so everything is working as it should. Over the past weeks I looked at a number of these older wooden building of which Stavanger is famous, but you get chills reading the condition reports - there always seems to be something wrong - from termites (!) in the basement, to problems with moisture and drainage, to thin walls,... that we thought no, we don't bother anymore with this and rather look at something more modern and safe.   

Here are a couple of photos of my new apartment. Of course it comes unfurnished, so need to think what I should do there - any suggestions?

View of the building. My apartment is at the center bottom.

Another view of the apartment building

This is a common swimming area in summer

The bridge connecting 6 or so islands to the mainland

Its a quite but trendy area

A water feature in the garden behind my apartment

View from the patio. Area for a gas grill in the summer.

Patio area with covered area for sitting

Living room with large windows

TV area

Door to patio opens out from living room

Open plan from kitchen to dinning area to living room

Dinning area

Kitchen

Dinning area and kitchen

Main bedroom
Sliding mirrored built in wardrobe

Second bedroom or office


Bathroom

Shower and washing machine

Floor plan

Position of my apartment relative to city center (the V-shape area)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Hike to Månafossen

Today I joined a hike to Månafossen  which is a waterfall located at the head of Frafjord, about an hour from Stavanger.



This is a view from the bus on our way there. I was feeling pretty car sick as the road snaked around the mountain.


From the parking lot to the viewing point is only about a 15 minute hike, though there are lots of loose stones and some steep places with steps and chains. Its an amazing site once there though - its considered one of Norway's most beautiful and magnificent waterfalls. The waterfall has a free fall of around 92 meters. 






Here are links to two videos:

Afterward we hiked further up the hill, and into the valley behind towards the hut you see in the picture below, where we had lunch. As you can see, summer has not quite arrived yet. 



Finally we headed back. Not a difficult hike overall, but a nice one with some good company.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Biking time

I've decided its time to get healthy and since the free Statoil bus is not running during the Easter break, its also a good way to save some bucks! So out with the bike and on with the 13km ride to work!

So down I went to the basement in all my gear, only to discover my tires were completely flat - damn! So now I had to go looking for a pump to buy. After buying one and pumping the wheels I then remembered I didnt have a lock for my bike. Now I know I'm in Norway and only riding to work, and there is an underground garage, but I still feel pretty paranoid to leave my bike unlocked (as one of my colleagues does). So for a second time it was off to the sports shop to buy a lock - a huge reinforced monstrosity of a lock - but now at least I could rest assured my baby would be safe.So much for saving bucks....


Getting to work was the next challenge. 13km is quite a distance and knowing which turn to take is not always straightforward. Luckily for me I asked another biker who was heading in the same direction, so could just follow. Its quite a scenic route going out of Stavanger and around the Hafrsfjord which is a stretch of coast, before heading past some farmland and then into the industrial area called Forus where Statoil is headquartered. As one bikes along the coastling you come across the Three Swords Monument which is quite striking:


The three large swords stand on the hill as a memory to the Battle of Hafrsfjord in around 872, when King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway under one crown. The largest sword represents the victorious king, and the two smaller swords represent the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace, as the three swords are stuck in the hill to never be used again.

On the way I came across a BMX course and since it was the weekend I thought I would give it a try. Check out my video here

 
Unfortunatly, there was also pain. As I was heading home I went down a steep street with a sharp turn at the bottom. It would have been fine but for the small stones that are put on the ground when it was snowing to improve grip. Now however, these same small stones make it very slippery and as I came around the corner, my back wheel slid out under me and I went skidding along the road (luckily a rather quiet back street). It was quite a hard landing, but it was only my arm and leg that scrapped along and I didnt notice much at the time. However, when I got home at took my shirt off, this is what greeted me:


Quite nasty looking! It was actually a small hole! As I didnt have any detol or bandages at home I had to go to the emergency clinic to have it cleaned up. What a sweat! But Im glad I did since now it is looking much better.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ski trip to Sauda


Today I joined a colleague on a ski trip to a resort called Sauda. I had to get up  quite early as the ferry left at 8am from Stavanger and took about an hour and a half to get to the mouth of the fjord, where we changed onto a bus. The half hour trip wove its way up the mountainside with spectacular views of the fjord below. We got to the resort at around 10am but is was about 11 before we actually got on to the slopes due to an excruciatingly slow process at the ski rental shop (I will definately buy my own ski's for the next season).

Although the slopes are not as high as ones I have been on in Switzerland, they are just about right for my level of experience. There are around 5 different ski trails - the longest descent around 6 kms. Also as one comes down, you can catch a glimpse of the fjord below which is quite stunning.


After about 4 hours of this I was really starved and greedily got the biggest (and most unhealthly looking) hamburger there was with x-large fries and coke. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I could only manage around half of it. Goes to show my eyes are always bigger than my stomache!

It was time to hit the slopes again for another couple of hours until 16:00 when the last busses began to depart. Overall a great trip!

Sunday, 21 February 2010