Mombasa

AFRICAAAAAA!

Sept 15th(2016), Mombasa

  As we arrived at our hostel in the evening we had just enough time to drop our bags in the room and hop in another taxi. The Manager had invited us to a Sunset at English Point Marina ( A Luxury Hotel, though very affordable at $80 USD for a standard room, we only stopped by for the priceless views). I regrettably FORGOT MY DAMN CAMERA! Without a doubt the karma gods insured incredible views of old town, Jesus fort, first hospital; old port; first entry; all highlighted by the massive African sun setting in late summer over an old city with a marina in between us. Behind us in a light blue sky not yet darkening was a near full moon. A scene which would be limited to only our memories and these descriptions scribbled in my notebook (or the internet) . We sat and had a “You Can’t Even” Ice Cream brownie sandwich. Accompanied by our hostel manager, who at the time was only 25 years of age, and 3  young Germans. The conversation somewhat led to how  Americans are so blah blah blah. Had to let that one pass as we were enjoying the ice cream too much.

 

 

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Sept 16th, Mombasa (from my notebook)

Walked the beach during the day. The sand felt as if it were made of powdered sugar. Clear water. Maybe only 4 other westerners on the entire beach. A majority of the beach goers were Kenyans who would approach and walk besides us. They would then start a conversation for several minutes before eventually trying to sell something. This happened 75% of the time. One particular individual offered a boat ride and later showed up at hostel to see if we had changed our minds.

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Back at the Hostel we sat at the poolside bar drinking Tusker Lager. Several locals were playing a game of Fifa15 via a playstation on the bar’s tv. A game I once could never get enough of.

Also at the bar were two of the young Germans from the previous night, a Brazilian guy around our age who was traveling through Africa via a bus tour, and an Anthony Bourdain dopelganger with a British accent who loves Africa and loved to tell stories of his time here. He claimed to have once sat down with Genereal Butt Naked, and described him as the essence of evil. (A quick google search wouldn’t disagree). The British gentleman, who came off as either once being an arms dealer or government influencer boasted that there is nowhere in the world like Africa and it will never be tamed. When describing the city we were to visit next “Like Amsterdam, Bangkok, and adrenaline all rolled into one. Thats Nairobi.” Later the conversation drifted towards something about AIDs & prostitution but I stopped listening, there were finally decent players having a good Fifa match an I debated the merits of asking to play next and leaving the wife stuck with a conversation she could live without…

 

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Another day another walking tour! We are quite fond of them. Our Guide, along with a 22 yr old tall German, a 33 yr old Brazilian, Siobhan and I took two tuk tuks into the city. We did not spot a single other (western) tourist the entire day in the city of mombassa. That was weird. 

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We visited the vegetable market; a spice market; a bazaar (if you’ve seen one you’ve sen them all. Interesting to note venders would shout and yell at our guide. Later he would tell us they were often mad at him because he would not stop and encourage us to buy)

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We also visited the fish market, a tea house,  & Fort Jesus

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Fort Jesus^

ending our tour at a restaurant located inside an office building’s first floor and had mis-quoted and mis-spelled American presidential quotes on the wall. One had a Lincoln quote regarding the internet.

The tour or dinner had run a bit late and our guide was becoming obviously nervous that the evening had snuck up on us so quickly. As we were walking a young local college student came up to Siobhan and I and introduced himself. After finding out we were American he was even more excited. And reacted in the typical fashion as other Kenyans we had met. “Obama Obama!” He then asked us who we were voting for in the coming election. To which he replied “A woman can not be president, that is crazy!” I was amused, Siobhan not so much. 

Our guide stopped a Matatu, a mini van turned local taxi-bus, payed our fare and instructed the driver at which corner to drop us off. Matatus are intense. They are old mini vans with a driver and a conductor. The conductor, with the sliding door open, hangs out of the van calling for riders. If someone is standing on the side of the street he’ll call to them to see if they need a ride. If there is a group of people standing, he’ll tap the roof of the van signaling the driver to pull over. He’ll yell something, perhaps the route they are going or a destination or a price or I have no idea, he was speaking Swahili. The van is already packed. I feel bad for the tall German with his knees at his chin. More passengers cram in. I guess it hadn’t been as packed as I thought. The driver is blasting some hip hop and doesn’t really care too much about picking up more people. The conductor often has to slam his palms on the roof repeatedly to get the driver to pull over. Occasionally the conductor shifts his body inside the van and tries to remember who has payed and where they wanted to get off, if not he will ask again. He holds a giant wad of cash in one hand while the other grips him to the van.  The vans are colorful or elaborately painted, Siobhan’s favorite was half red and half blue with Crips and Bloods as well as murals of famous rappers affiliated with either gang beautifully painted on a Matatu. 

Mombasa is a gem, unfortunate for us our the final day would be spent at the Hostel because I was becoming ill. Possibly from the restaurant. Disappointed that I was becoming sick without having even tried the street food yet! The illness would cary over to our next stop, Nairobi. Will I survive the trip? Will Siobhan have to continue on with out me? Stay tuned to find out!

Bethlehem, Palestine

From the Damascus Gate we took a bus to the border crossing of Bethlehem. Check point 300. The border was an intimidating massive concrete separation. As if to move large amounts of cattle though many long fenced hallways. But we were merely a dozen or so tourists, no cattle. A quick passport check and we were on the other side. Greeted by more taxis than there were tourists, I almost felt guilty that we had decided to walk. It was only 3km to our destination. A Russian college student also had been advised to walk by a friend of hers who lived in Jerusalem. Though without a map she tagged along with us, and our trusted Google Maps. It was still a Muslim holiday and everything was closed. Bethlehem was a ghost town.

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In no time we arrived at the Church of The Nativity. Built above the cave traditionally believed to mark the birth place of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Beneath the Alter of the Nativity, the 14 point silver star marks the spot traditionally believed to be where the Virgin Mary gave birth.

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Google Maps had decided to take us down some interesting alley ways… Siobhan insisted, partly from her own worry but also because she was embarrassed that our new found friendly Russian had trusted us to guide her back to the checkpoint, that I ask a family that was dining in their court yard if we were heading in the right direction. Of course we were. Eventually the narrow dirt ally way kicked us back out on to the main road.

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Our detour had taken us back a different way than we came. Allowing us to walk along the barrier/ wall. A car pulled up just as we were back near the main road. (The white car in the last photograph) and offered to take us on a tour of the refugee camps and/or the Banksy artwork on the wall. Unfortunately we were pressed on time to catch one of the last remaining buses back to Jerusalem. Next time.

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Jerusalem

September 10th, 2016

Saturday, with our packs on our shoulders we walked to the Tel Aviv Central Station in hopes to catch a bus ( buses don’t run on Sabbath), ok, a sherut (shared taxi van) to Jerusalem. NOTE to anyone taking a sherut, they are located OUTSIDE the Station on Tzemach David Street. Not inside the Station. This would become clear to us only after we had entered via the metal detector and security screening/ bag inspection. through a ghost town of closed steel pull-down gates. Down to a floor of  entirely vacant store fronts. Like pin balls we bounced around the maze-like station. Passing locked mall exits. I had heard in a podcast that there was a bat colony living in this mall! Up to a sixth floor closed bus station. Eventually back out the same way we came. Around the corner we found Tzemach David St.

Private taxi’s eagerly offered us rides to Jerusalem for 300 shekels ($85USD). As we kept walking it went down to 250. Fortunately the shared taxis were in sight and, once filled with ten occupants, we were on our way at only 33 shekels each (less than $20 for the two of us!)

Our new routine: Arrive. Drop off the backpacks. Run outside and play. I am a grown ass child.

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Doing just that we entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate. Explored one night, a walking tour the next day. Each time we came out and ate shawarmas from the same stand operated by a father and son. Each night, live music at the hostel.

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As we walked through the Old City market, these little cut outs and tunnels leading to who-knows-where always piqued my interest. Though being a tourist and not a guest kept this grown kid from ever exploring them.

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Hastily jotted down notes from our walking tour, again take my sloppy notes with a grain of salt.

  • David’s tomb until 150 yr ago was thought since Byzantine times to be Davids Palace. Which is actually a few miles away. But here traditions are stronger than fact.
  • Armenian quarter here because 3rd century Roman era when Christianity was still illegal. The Armenian King converted to Christianity, and therefore so did his kingdom. Being the first kingdom to do so. A lot of these people came to Jerusalem. So they have been here the longest.
  • The Jewish quarter is newly rebuilt in 1970’s
  • 1948 Jerusalem became divided between Israel & Jordan and much controversy has surrounded the city since. Today, Israel is the only country that recognizes it’s claim over Jerusalem.
  • Security in the Old City is the police not the army
  • According to tradition the rock under the golden dome is considered the holiest place though not allowed in, so closest we can get is the western wall
  • Temple Mount is where Mohammad went up to heaven and came back.
  • Protestants and Christians have two different places for where Jesus was crucified and resurrected
  • Because of the crusaders, Catholics were not allowed to buy property until 1900s

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Inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre,  believed to be the site of where Jesus was crucified.

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This night happened to be a Muslim holiday, most likely Eid Al-Fitr (celebrating the end of Ramadan) or Eid Al-Adha (according to wikipedia: the “Sacrifice Feast” honoring the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, as an act of obedience to God’s command. God ended up providing a goat to sacrifice instead.)

The celebrations flooded the vendor-filled block through out the night. Packed. Some of the most dense sidewalks we’ve walked through. It was almost comical to see an extra wide flat push cart vendor selling pastries pivot his way through, like a mom at Disneyland withe a triple wide child’s stroller. 

Unfortunately or not, I’m not sure, I have no photos of this. Maybe because there were no decorations to photograph. No christmas lights. No menorahs. No easter bunny. No-one performing a dragon dance. No fish with feet decals.  It was just a few sidewalks swelling with enthusiasm. Couples, families, groups of young men, women in hijabs and niqabs, some in burkas. Somehow to have photographed, or perhaps more so to be the only one photographing, seemed intrusive or rude. It felt like it would have taken away from or ruin the moment. Instead we flowed with the celebration. And of course dined on pastries.

Strangely, maybe embarrassingly exhilerated from being immersed in another culture for a few hours we returned again to live music at the hostel. A wonderful way to end the day.

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Jerusalem Sept 13th 2016 (The Machane Yehuda) Market.

Butcher selling fresh lungs. We had lamb kabobs & liver. Butcher said to cook lungs low and slow for 2hrs with oil n hot water.. find this back home and try it. off to guestimate how to get to the dead sea. 

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The YMCA building.

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We took the Egged Bus 486 from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, platform 5, to a public beach at the Dead Sea. It might have been the Ein Bokek Beach however I can’t confirm this, seeing how we just got off where the majority of the occupants on the bus also got off and proceeded to followed them to a beach.

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The few tents, brown or blue, you see in this photo are permanent fixtures and are shared amongst beach goers. We placed our towels in the shade of one of the blue umbrellas. At first sharing it with another couple. Then a group of five middle aged Israelis. Tangent: you know that awkward situation where non white Americans, regardless of how many generations their family has lived in the States, are asked where they are from. Even more so if they/ we speak any other language. The same kind of thing applies to Israelis. In this case, the Spanish speaking tent mates that had just camped down next to us. Turns out they had grown up in Spain. A brief stint in Los Angeles before permanently moving to Israel two decades ago. They were welcoming, friendly, and hospitable, yet wondered why why had chose to come to Israel. That was a sentiment we got a lot, “why here”. They shared their water, Sheron (persimmon-like) fruit, & mud, containing many minerals and believed to be medical and therapeutic. In the canopy adjacent to us  was an extensive Arabic family. The grandmother ( I presumed) walked over twice offering us pastries and strong coffee in small dixie cups. No common language needed, just smiles and head nods and thank yous.

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Israel you are a gem. And we shall see you sooner rather than later. Shalom!

 

Destination: Tel Aviv, Israel

September 7th, 2016

We arrived at night. Took the metro from the airport into the city. Exited the train station making our way over a long highway overpass. It would be a two mile walk to our hostel.

My thought processes went as follows:

The buildings look odd. It’s as if when originally built they had been two stories and recently an additional two or three floors has just been dropped on top. The yellow shine from the motor scooters and vehicle headlights paint the buildings from the ground up. Light seems to rise from the asphalt. The street lights, more like dimmers, illuminate a simple warmth instead of brightness. Maybe this is why the buildings, though not sky scrapers, seem to melt into the black sky. Or perhaps because it is humid and hot. End of the over pass. This must be the Ethiopian part of town. Check google maps for directions… Whoa. That corner market has a metal detector and military personnel armed with an assault riffle standing guard. At a corner store?! Yup. That’s odd. “Be vigilant and careful” is what we were advised. Ok. Noted. Be more mindful of our surroundings. Ok… Shit, was I wrong? Am I going to get a fucking “I told you so” if something were to happen to Siobhan? Baaah. We’re only two blocks in. Focus. This place is grimy. It can use some serious pressure washing. Keep walking. More military people patrolling. They kind of remind me of the ones in Mexico, must be the green uniforms and assault rifles. Turn left here. Oh some out door dining. There are a lot of things open late. sweeeet. Note the St. name. Screenshot google map location to return later. Note to self: find some good Ethiopian food around here. There is a lot of curb side dining and drinking. This place is lively. This place is going to be fucking awesome. oh. cool street art. quick photo… There’s our hostel! *

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The brief and strange nights introduction was quickly replaced the following morning. A bright Sun dilutes the urban grime and nearly restores the buildings to its White City glory (as it was once known).

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We explored nearly every neighborhood of the city in just two days and two nights. By day: Cafe Halutza in the North Jaffa for some incredible shakshuka, the Jerusalem Mix at the Shut Ha Karmel out door market, and a walking tour of old Jaffa. By night: Sputnik Bar, Kuli Alma, and Bar Ochel in the city center area. The bars were amongst the hippest I’ve seen (though keep in mind that due to insane alcohol taxes a red cup of beer will cost $12USD). We also tried Falafel Hakosem for the recommended best shawarma in Jaffa, went for a stroll through a large park complete with zoo, and a sunset walk along the boardwalk…and of course, the beach!

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from my muji notebook: Sept 9th 2016, tel aviv

Chilling in a park, Siobhan working on her spanish notebook. There is a hen party (bachelorette)  doing yoga things; two one year olds having an inflatable pool party (genius); a miniature zoo; and a boy/girl scout camp

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(continuing from the notebook) Walking along the boardwalk around 8pm, Arabic families picnicking in the grass areas with small aluminum rectangle charcoal grills cooking kabobs. Stopped at a cafe for some mint tea and lemon arak.

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* In hindsight, the description of my thought process  could be applied to an arrival to many unfamiliar cities. Walking out of the greyhound or union station in downtown Los Angeles could have a similar effect. If Tokyo were to have heavily armed personnel manning the streets, it too would conjure up similar thoughts of suspicion (though Tokyo does not).

Tel Aviv was lively, beautiful, young and hip. Personally it was a place that left me with a similar feeling as Lisbon had. This was a place I could see us living for  some months in the not to distance early semi retirement future 😉

Lay Over: Athens Greece

Sept 6th, 2016

We said goodbye to Ireland and boarded a flight to Tel Aviv, with a long layover in Athens. Our window was from 6:05AM – 4:30PM so we emailed Athens Free Walking Tours the day before (procrastinators) and fortunately for us they replied within an hour. Two available tours that day lasting roughly 2.5hrs. starting at 9:30AM, fitting perfectly into our layover window…even when our flight was delayed and arrived more than two hours late.

We checked our carry-on bags at the Athens Airport with Left Luggage by Pacific Travel,  jumped on to the Metro to Monastraki Station (45 minutes) and thanks to our Downloaded and SAVED google map of Athens we were able to navigate the small jigsaw streets of the city. And we arrived at the walking tour meet-up point just as it was about to begin 🙂

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The following consists of:

1) Notes I managed to jot down as our well-informed, history enthusiast tour guide took us around the city. These notes have NOT been fact-checked. I have slow penmanship and I hate asking anyone to repeat themselves, so I realize that summarizing what I may have heard isn’t always 100% accurate.

2) Quotes from one of Siobhan’s favorite movies, which thus far had been one of our only points of reference for modern Greece. These quotes have absolutely nothing to do with the photos they’ve been inserted next to. I’ll let you figure out the title.

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  • Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, 11th or 12th century,  one of the oldest churches in Athens

“Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”

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  • Hadrian = the coolest Roman emperor. Loved and respected Greeks so much that he tried to change the capitol of the Roman empire to Athens. First to rock the greek beard. Considered third of the “five good emperors”. Hadrian’s Library marks the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire. His Greek lover was a boy, which may be why he isn’t talked about.

“You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word “milo,” which is mean “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word “portokali,” which mean “orange.” So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.”

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  • Athenians were basically pirates in 15th century BC. With the Best navel fleet they went around to the islands charging for protection

“I had to go to Greek school, where I learned valuable lessons such as, “If Nick has one goat and Maria has nine, how soon will they marry?”

 

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  • The Greek Marketplace (agora) coined as the birthplace of democracy, judicial system, and monetary system (Greek coins from 6th Century BC were found in Egypt)

“There are two kinds of people – Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.”

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  • Temple of Hephaestus is the most well-preserved temple in all of Greece

“You better get married soon. You’re starting to look… old!”

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  • Mars Hill (or the Areopagus), where Paul preached (paraphrasing) “There are many temples here, even one dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. I’m here to follow Jesus, the unknown god and only god.” He converted only three people then was beat up and kicked out of Athens. Also the site of a higher court that held the trial of Ares, god of war, for killing Poseidon’s son.

“Now, you are family. Okay. All my life, I had a lump at the back of my neck, right here. Always, a lump. Then I started menopause and the lump got bigger from the “hormonees.” It started to grow. So I go to the doctor, and he did the bio… the b… the… the bios… the… b… the “bobopsy.” Inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord. Yes. Inside the lump was my twin.”

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  • A lot of young Greeks today are staunch communist supporters because the other governments they’ve had have failed. Our guide argued that we’ve also seen communism fail many times and history shows it doesn’t work.

My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek and every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.”

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  • The Acropolis was for the wealthy and high priests.  Some think it was a bank that housed pirate protection money which was called a gift to Athena. Within the Acropolis, the Erechtheion Temple is most important site despite its size.

Nick-“Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become”  Toula – ” Nick thats beautiful” Nick – ” yeah that dear Abby really knows what she’s talking about.”

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About Us:

 

 

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on December 19th,2015 we got married! …in the rain! Regardless Siobhan and most of the guests claim to have had a wonderful time. Though my fun came in the preparation and planning (even if the outcome was a bit chaotic.) Having been introduced to the world of Credit Card Travel Rewards almost exactly a year prior, my wedding planning was quickly hijacked by my new found obsession: acquiring the most points possible for a potential three month honeymoon! When all was said and done we had far exceeded that goal. All of a sudden we were closing in on a million miles&points allowing us the possibility of extending our travels three fold.

This site is for those who would like to keep up with our travels as we update regularly while abroad ❤

-Richard