Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

Tag: travel (page 1 of 2)

Peer Gynt at Gålå mixes fantasy with reality

High in the Norwegian mountains is a legendary theatrical experience worth the journey

Photo: Bård Gundersen / courtesy of Peer Gynt Festival
The natural setting is as much a part of the play as the actors and musicians. Characters enter and leave on boats and wade into the water, they chop trees apart, and of course they do it all no matter the weather.

The curtain cannot rise because there is no curtain, no proscenium arch, nothing but grass and a beach flanked by two shaggy hillocks between us and Lake Gålåvatnet. We are gathered here in the Norwegian wilds outside Vinstra to go on a journey with a character called Peer Gynt.

On and off the page
Peer’s journey begins just down the hill. He’s a farmboy with a bad reputation and a penchant for tall tales. The well-known opening line of the play is from his mother, Åse, who yells, “Peer, du lyver!” (“you’re lying”). He proceeds to spin a wild tale about riding a reindeer, which riffs on Norwegian folktales, and like a folktale cannot possibly be believed.

So it figures that his travels would run him afoul of powerful trolls and powerful forces that would dog him to his dying day.

The character on Ibsen’s written page is an enigma. He is a liar, and he is a loser. A big-talking charlatan whose answer to the trouble he gets himself into is to run away. Yet he is also a lucky man, and one who might be a sympathetic or even tragic figure. I found I couldn’t get a grip on the guy on the page, so I was eager to see what version of the man would step onto the stage.

Mads Ousdal, in his last year as Peer, didn’t step so much as gallivant, bursting onto the grassy lakefront and even onto a bench-like barrier between the audience and the stage with gymnastic moves and pelvic gyrations, as the band played eerie strings. Throughout the show Peer veered from excitement to a few tender moments to the character’s dominant emotion, spittle-flecking rage.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Mads Ousdal as Peer Gynt entered in an athletic, swaggery burst of personality that brought the action very much to the audience’s lap.


No Norwegian? No problem
Of course, much of the blame for the spittle lies with Henrik Ibsen, who wrote Peer Gynt 150 years ago this year. The language of the play is complex and rhymes to the beat of a different drummer, and it is clearly more than a mouthful at times.

But fear not, English speakers. The festival provides brief introductions to the play in English and German, and also offers an audio guide in those languages. Rather than step on Ibsen’s language with a word-for-word translation, the guide simply gives intros at the beginning of each scene. A word of advice though: one does have to keep the device engaged. I confess I took it off at one point and became hopelessly unsynced from the audio summaries. Thank goodness I’d read the script!

A range of dates to celebrate
Norway’s most famous playwright was inspired, during his time in the Gudbrandsdal valley, by the tales of the real Per Gynt, who’d lived across the way from him some hundred years earlier. He was a liar too, but in a more gentle way—a spinner of tall tales who entertained his neighbors in a pre-television world so thoroughly that his legend persisted for generations.

The Peer Gynt Festival was first celebrated in Vinstra in 1928, the 100th year since Ibsen’s birth. The second festival was held four years later in 1932, 200 years after the birth of the historical Per Gynt. After a long pause, the festival started back up in 1976, 100 years after the play’s initial premier in Christiania (Oslo). In the early days, the festival was mostly just a party, an occasion for “moonshine and harmonica,” as one local resident put it. In 1989 the play was first performed on the shore of Gålåvatnet.

With so many historical events to mark, the festival can find a reason to make every year special, but they are determined to mark the play’s 150th birthday with the respect the occasion deserves.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The version of the production that I saw used costumes to great effect. The trolls had a lot of greenery about them, as one might expect, but they were also covered in trash, making them somewhat more urban—not to mention modern—creatures than what Ibsen probably had in mind. Later in the play, we were visited with mental patients armed with selfie sticks, and even dancing soldiers in camo fatigues.

The many incarnations of Peer
For the first 25 years of the festival, the play’s production remained largely unchanged. When attendance started to drop off in the early teens, they realized it was time for a change. There was nothing wrong with the original production, all those who’d seen it assured me. But like The Phantom of the Opera, there eventually comes a time when everyone who was going to attend has. What to do then?

The festival brought in a new Artistic Director, Erik Ulfsby, to remake the production. “Peer Gynt is like a big house with many doors,” he said. “I’ll do other doors than those done earlier.” The set was rebuilt, and the audience moved closer to the water. The music, partially from Grieg’s score, was modernized to de-romanticize Peer Gynt.

This is the play I saw. If Ulfsby’s goal was to make Peer’s journey more real, then he succeeded with flying colors. The reality of the play was one of my main takeaways. I’ve done a little work behind the scenes of plays in the U.S. and here safety is always a primary concern. So I was stunned to see actors doing things like waterskiing or hacking all the branches off a tree with an axe, let alone running and jumping about on rain-slick surfaces or jumping into lakes half naked. Yes, I was told, Mads had injured himself a couple of times. Never too severely.

A Peer for the future
2017 is another year of changes. Director Sigrid Strøm Reibo’s vision for the new production is to emphasize the long journey Peer undertakes. The title role will be split for the first time at Gålå, with father and son actors Jakob and Nils Ole Oftebro sharing the part. Though both are well-known actors in Norway, this will also mark the first time the two have been in a play together.

We will meet 25-year-old Peer in the 1960s and follow him until the present day. Details of the new production are of course as yet unknown, but we have also been promised a new approach to both the music and the musicians and “new tableaus and pictures that audience will not expect.”

Crazy as it sounds, I am seriously considering making another trip back to Lake Gålåvatnet to see how the interpretation of this timeless classic changes from year to year.

Photo courtesy of Peer Gynt Festival
The artistic team for 2017: Mask & Costume Designer Helena Andersson, Director Sigrid Strøm Reibo, Composer & Musical Director Simon Revholt, and Scene & Costume Designer Gjermund Andresen.

Notes on actually being there
The experience of Peer Gynt at Gålå is like if Broadway theatre and camping had a baby. High-quality performances in a rustic—yet hyggelig—setting.

My main words of advice are these: dress warmly. Wear all your layers. Yes, it’s August. No, it probably won’t be warm. Yes, it might rain, and no they won’t stop the show. For us it started to rain in Act I, and there was a mighty rustle as we in the audience all donned our ponchos. I had as much clothing on as I physically could, including a lot of borrowed items. If you won’t have anyone to borrow from, pack well.

Also, make a night of it! The performance itself is one thing, but there’s also dinner to be had before the show, in big heated tents strewn with cozy sheepskins. There are picnic benches outside if the weather permits. Bringing in outside food or beverage did not seem to be counter indicated, so I recommend it. At the intermission, get some coffee and a pastry. At the end of the night, if you’re up for it, hit up “Varm mat og etterprat,” a discussion with people involved in the play that also comes with soup, back in the tents.

But wait, there’s more!
The play runs for two weekends, with at least seven performances (and quite probably more added as these sell out). But you don’t want to miss the one-time-only “mountain concert” on the final Sunday. High atop another mountain you can nestle into the heather and relax with the view and incredible choral and instrumental music. For me this was a magical day—the only really sunny and almost warm day of my week in Norway. Your mileage may vary, of course.

This event cannot sell out, as I am assured that the mountain can handle it. Bring a picnic blanket and your matpakke or buy snacks and beverages from the many stands that pop up along the way, or have lunch at the charming Hotel Rondablikk and enjoy a hike around the area.

For more info on visiting the Peer Gynt Festival or to buy tickets, visit peergynt.no.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Two ways to rush through Oslo

You can see more than you think on a short trip to Norway’s capital—even while smelling the roses

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO
Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

With so much to see in a fascinating place like Oslo, you may think it best to budget a week or more in Norway’s capital city. I can’t argue with that thinking, of course, but the reality of traveling is that we can usually not spend as much time anywhere as we’d like (except for airports. We spend far too much time in those).

The first time I visited Oslo it was for one day, an afterthought squeezed in between uncooperative train and flight schedules. The second time I hoped would be more leisurely, but I ended up with just over two days! Still, one can see a lot in a short visit if properly armed and motivated.

For armaments, you’ll need an Oslo Pass and a map. If you’re privileged enough to have a smartphone that actually works in Norway (no, I’m not bitter at my cell phone carrier. NOT AT ALL.), there is an app for all of that, called Visit Oslo. I’m sure it works wonders. For those of us who find ourselves suddenly in the last century with regards to personal technology, a physical Oslo Pass and map will do just fine. You can pick these up at most hotels, and also at a visitor’s office at the train station. They’re available in 24-, 48-, and 72-hour versions, and the clock doesn’t start running on it until your first use. The Oslo Pass also comes with a pocket-sized paper guide to everything it offers. Which is an incredible amount! Between attractions and public transportation, it’s a real bargain.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

On that first trip we arrived late in the evening, found some food, and wandered on Karl Johans gate and down to the Opera House before heading back to the hotel to plan our attack on the next day. The goal: to see as much as possible.

We started by taking the ferry (included!) from the Oslo Harbor in front of the Rådhus over to Bygdøy, where you’ll find a cluster of museums. If you’re into boats, this is the place for you: the Viking Ship Museum is there, along with museums hosting the Fram and Kon-Tiki (and Ra). They are all rather small museums, and all included in your Oslo Pass.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Next to these is the famous Norsk Folk Museum filled with brown farm buildings with grass roofs. You will probably want to spend a little more time here, to take in the living history demonstrators who bring the place to life, by, for example, offering you lefse baked on the medieval hearth in a farmhouse.

I’m pretty sure we did all of this before lunch.

After that, we took the boat back and walked toward the t-bane (subway), which allowed us to spot half a dozen points of interest at least enough to point at them. Ooh! The palace! Right here in the middle of the city, you say? Neat!

We took the subway to the Munch Museum, which is also pretty small—but mandatory if you’re into art at all. “The Scream” is in the National Gallery of Art, but since it was a theme Munch returned to over and over, there is also a Scream at his museum—the exhibit does change, but this seems to be a constant. After all, that is really what people are coming to see.

We hopped back on the t-bane and went to Frogner Park, which contains Vigeland Park, which is also mandatory. I don’t care how short your visit to Oslo is; go see the creepy iconic work of Norway’s best-known sculptor and take selfies with the statues.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Our last stop on that visit was all the way up to Holmenkollen, the ski jump that looms over Oslo like the launch pad for a spaceship. It hosts a small museum of ski jumping and of course the view from the top of the jump, which is to say the view of all Oslo.

Our assessment was that we’d seen the crap out of Oslo. Not bad for a day’s work.

My second visit, I was on a mission: to research articles like this one, yes, but I also had meetings in various parts of the city that disrupted the flow of my sightseeing. One thing I discovered early on was that, even though it was theoretically the height of the tourist season (early August), things close early. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t much happening in the center of the city. Many attractions are closed on Sundays, or on Mondays, so plan your route with that in mind. Save parks for the evenings, at least when long summer daylight allows. Because for some reason, everything else closes at either 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

I started with Ekebergparken, a new sculpture park on the east side of town. One of the area’s claims to fame is that it is the view Munch used for “The Scream” and other of his works. Marina Abramović’s sculpture, a frame at the edge of a platform, gives you the chance to be your own Scream. You will have to hike a bit to get there. Yes, farther than you think. Make a left at Tony Oursler’s “Klang,” an A/V hobbit house wall (described by the park’s website as a “video grotto”), and eventually you will get there, even though it doesn’t seem like it!

My first full day in Oslo looked something like:
• wander Karl Johans gate from Stortinget to the palace
• head toward the harbor but instead run into the Ibsen Museum and decide to stop
• meeting
• find myself at the Nobel museum and decide why not?
• by-appointment viewing of Emanuel Vigeland’s mausoleum (more on this in another article, I promise!)
• wandering, dinner

And my second day went:
• Gustav Vigeland’s museum
• Frogner park
• meeting, other meeting
• Munch Museum
• realize that there’s still time to get to the National Gallery, so go
• wandering, dinner

On both days the theme was one of being able to see more than I’d expected to. I wouldn’t be certain if there was time to properly see something, like the Ibsen Museum. But having the Oslo Pass emboldened me to give it a try—I knew it wouldn’t cost anything more if I needed to come back again, and I also never worried about spending money to visit a museum only to stay for a short time. Aside from E. Vigeland’s mausoleum, the Oslo Pass covers everything I did.

Also, and I say this with no disrespect, these are not overly large museums. Even the National Gallery’s permanent collection is possible to get through in an hour, and it has a more impressive Munch collection than the actual Munch Museum—not to mention other Norwegian artists. So maybe it’s not a museum to shock and awe visitors, but I find that a refreshing change of pace from one that takes all day, or many days (I’m looking at you, Louvre) to see properly.

That will perhaps change in the coming years. Three new museums are set to open soon—a new National Museum, which will combine the current National Gallery and History Museums, a new National Library, and a new Munch Museum in a whole new location (literally—the location is currently water in Oslo’s harbor). In the years after that, the expanded Viking Ship Museum will also come online.

So if you’re inclined to rush though Oslo, my advice is to rush to Oslo first, before its museums grow too big to handle.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær?

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.

I knew right away when I stepped off the plane that I’d made a mistake. Skirts and tank tops had no place in my luggage for this trip to Oslo and the Gudbrandsdalen valley in August.

I thought I had planned so carefully. The weather forecast showed some rain for my trip, but temperatures in the 60s—not my preferred beach weather, but not so dissimilar from the old school “summer” Seattle had been experiencing. I packed the sort of clothes I’d been wearing. I very carefully prepared a special clothing plan for an outdoor event in the mountains: long underwear, a wool sweater to be acquired in Norway, and waterproof outer layers. It’s the mountains, yes, but it’s still summer, I thought. How cold could it be?

A Norwegian relative of mine shared a quote with me, of uncertain origin: “Norway has two winters, one of them white and the other green. The green one is the worst, because they don’t use the fireplace.” Whoever said it, that was exactly the phenomenon I experienced. In Oslo hotels the boilers are off, so forget about heating up your chilly room.

Put on more clothing! Norway is like a frugal father telling his kids not to touch the thermostat. The phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” is bandied about so much that it’s a Norwegian cliché, but do people really believe it? The unseasonably chilly weather (yes, even for Norway!) was a frequent subject for conversation, so I ended up asking a great many Norwegians their thoughts on the truth of the truism.

It was hard to find many who would speak out against their country’s weather. The final tally came in with eight firmly agreeing with the saying, four admitting that there is sometimes bad weather, and three weaseling away from the question by saying that it’s really both. For example, Ingrid, a Norwegian working in the U.S. Embassy, said immediately that there was bad weather. Her reasoning: she’d been biking into work and had forgotten her rain pants, and when she got in water literally poured out of her shoes.

“So if you’d been wearing your rain pants it would have been okay?” I asked.

Indeed. So whose point had she just proven? Camilla from Visit Lillehammer neatly summed up a sentiment I heard repeatedly: “There is bad weather, but there is also really good clothing.”

Kate from Norwegians Worldwide was adamant that the saying was true. She said she’d been camping during rains that had closed roads with their resulting floods and thought, “It’s a bit wet.”

Cecile from Lillehammer’s stunning Art Museum was the most outspoken in supporting the existence of bad weather, but qualified it by saying she wasn’t a very typical Norwegian. Typical Norwegians, she told me, wear very sensible clothing. Her style is, predictably, more artistic.

Even in the mountains at Lake Gålå, where actors perform outdoors in all weather, often wearing what I would consider very “bad” clothing, I couldn’t find anyone to condemn it. “The weather is part of the performance,” said Reidar, who dies in the play and must lie still on the often-wet ground. Another performer talked about adapting one’s performance to match the surroundings, making motions bigger.

I have nothing but admiration for these stalwart souls who embody the theatrical cliché “the show must go on.” I sat in the audience, wearing an additional four layers over and under the careful plan I’d made, wrapped in ponchos and a loaned woolen blanket, and found it mildly distressing when it started to rain. It rained steadily for the rest of the show, at least two hours during which not one of the actors let on that there was any kind of weather, despite being at times shirtless, often barefoot, sometimes wading into lake water I can’t imagine was much above freezing.

International developer for the festival Hanne Maren, who did say, “I’m starting to feel there is something wrong with that saying,” tacitly admitting to the existence of bad weather, denied that that evening’s rain qualified. It had been a nice night, she said. It was a balmy 12 degrees! (Celsius, of course). What was I complaining about?

I’d often thought there was an element of victim-blaming to the saying about bad clothing. It seems to say, “Oh, you’re cold? Should have been wearing a better coat.”

But perhaps it’s even more accurate to say that it’s a bit classist. I had considered buying rain pants for this trip, but the high price tag put me off. Hanne Maren loaned me a pair of hers, saying that you should never buy something for a trip, but only if you really need it in your life. But then how is a person to visit a place like Norway? For some, “bad” clothing is the only kind they can afford.

So what is the answer? For me, I think there’s quite a lot that counts as bad weather—hurricanes and tornadoes leap to mind. But barring weather warranting a Red Cross response, I’m willing to entertain the notion that there is some level of clothing out there that would make it all okay, or even enjoyable. I simply haven’t found it yet.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Have we been there yet?

Photo: Amy Lietz We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?

Photo: Amy Lietz
We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?

Lately a thing has been going around social media: a map of the U.S. called “States I’ve Visited.” Visited states turn a vibrant pink, bragging to all Facebook friends how well traveled one is. It’s a digital, national version of a gift we recommended last Christmas, a map of the world you can scratch off to show where you’ve been.

I think these things are fun, and I’ve even given the physical versions to a couple of people as gifts. But I must confess I have a hard time filling them out for myself. My hesitation comes from an uncertainty about what it means to have been to a place.

The first time I remember doing this same exercise, counting which states I’d been to, I got into an argument about Georgia. I’d transferred between legs of a flight to Florida in the Atlanta airport. The judges ruled that I had not been to Georgia.

I accept that. In fact, I think it’s generally agreed upon that airports don’t count. Just because you’ve sprinted for a connecting flight in Frankfurt doesn’t mean that you’ve been to Germany. The basis for this rule seems to be the idea that airports are all the same. Which has some validity, if our starting point is that you are a fairly well-traveled native English speaker. Even the farthest-flung airports I’ve visited have been variations on a theme of large windows and moving walkways, had signage I could read, and sold overpriced snacks and coffees (even often for US currency), though of course the size, quality, and interest of airports vary wildly.

But this rule sets a dangerous precedent; at least for me it is the first step of a slippery slope. You see, lots of places are basically all the same. I once spent several months traveling the U.S. while living in my car (long story; another time). I was in Providence, Rhode Island. I’d walked around just a bit—just enough to be unpleasantly far from my car, though I don’t remember seeing much of interest—when it started pouring. I mean, seriously heavy, drenching rain. I would have been soaked by the time I made it back to the car (which is problematic when the car is your home for the night) so I ducked into a mall to wait it out. Long story short: I spent many hours in this mall, and when I could I left the state as fast as possible. So have I been to Rhode Island? Malls are pretty much all the same, aren’t they?

Or for that matter, what about any number of the U.S. states that I drove through, on the Interstate, and maybe only stopped at a rest stop or a gas station, and don’t remember a single thing about the state? Have I been to those? My map looks very different depending on these answers. I’ve been to either 35 or 43 states.

Let’s say I’ve made it to a state and done a legitimate thing—stayed overnight, saw the sights, ate some local cuisine—in one city. Is it really fair to say I’ve been to that state? What if the state is Texas and the city I’ve been to is Austin? Seems like a stretch.

For that matter, even my home state is mostly a mystery to me. I know western Washington pretty well (well, except for Bellingham and most of the islands and almost the whole Olympic peninsula), but though I’ve been to the eastern places a number of times most of it might as well be full of sasquatches for how familiar I am with it.

Often times, travel articles add to the feeling that the way I’ve visited a place isn’t good enough. Titles like “You haven’t seen Seattle until you’ve eaten these four fish,” or some such. I know it’s hyperbole, but I am left wondering: have I ever really been anywhere?

 

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

A summer tour in the Holy Land

Ancient yet modern, safe yet violent, Israel is a land of contradictions

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.

 

Since returning from a hastily planned trip to Israel this summer, everyone’s been asking me how it was. Did I have fun? And I don’t entirely know how to answer. Many of the experiences one has in Israel can’t be filed neatly under the heading of “fun,” but it is definitely a trip worth taking.

The most prominent feature of the region is religion; therefore your experience with Israel will vary depending on your religious beliefs. For many Christians, visiting sites like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (where, according to legend, Jesus was born) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where he was crucified and buried) are life-changing spiritual moments. Muslims have the Dome of the Rock, where some believe Mohammed ascended to heaven, and which is, in any case, an ancient marvel of architecture (or so I hear, as non-Muslims are no longer permitted to visit the site) and for Jews, almost the whole country is a sort of miracle, not to mention housing many sacred tombs and the famous Western Wall.

Our group wasn’t particularly religious, so I chose a “classical” tour that would give us a taste of everything with a focus on history rather than faith—to the degree they can be separated in Israel. There’s little variation in what highlights are included in most package tours, so go with whichever best fits your travel dates and budget. Ours was an “11-day tour” (with two of those travel days) that had us leaving Seattle on a Thursday to arrive in Tel Aviv on Friday. The guided portion of our tour began Sunday morning when we swung north to spend two nights in the Golan Heights before going back to Jerusalem for five more nights.

A few words of advice. One, do shop around for your flights—it would have been simple to use the tour provider for this, but we would have paid hundreds more in airfare and/or spent eight more hours in layovers each way. I took to Travelocity.com and found us an itinerary that was far superior.

Two, if your itinerary is like ours, consider spending extra time in Tel Aviv. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, when everything was just about to shut down for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath, which goes from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Though more things in Tel Aviv remain open than in Jerusalem—like restaurants and some shops—this still limited our ability to see the city. On our only day in town, most of what we wanted to see—museums and two supposedly bustling markets—were closed or open for such brief hours that we missed out. This left us with Yafo and the beach (which, don’t get me wrong, are both incredible). To get our lower airfare we spent an extra day in Jerusalem, but I wish we’d had it in Tel Aviv instead.

Three, don’t let the tour people bully you into an upgrade; we went with base-level hotels and they were entirely acceptable. Only upgrade if amenities like swimming pools are vital to you. But if your trip is anything like ours, you won’t be spending much time at the hotel anyway.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Bedouin hospitality in this case included dressing up for photos. Unfortunately, the sword and helmet were out of our price range, and had to stay in Israel.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Bedouin hospitality in this case included dressing up for photos. Unfortunately, the sword and helmet were out of our price range, and had to stay in Israel.

What’s awesome:
The age of the place. From Yafo (Jaffa), the ancient port city at the south end of Tel Aviv, to Tsfat (Safed), home of Jewish mysticism, to Jerusalem itself, it’s incredible to see how history has layered itself in these places, some of which have been continuously occupied for many thousands of years. For an American, this can be hard to quite understand. It’s hard to know how much of any given site is ancient and how much is new, because the construction matches so well. In many places it feels as if you’ve time-traveled thousands of years—until you catch the blue flicker of a television inside a building.

In Jerusalem, be sure to find your way to the “roof” of the city. The level at which you fight your way through aggressive vendors and crowds of tourists is only the middle. Older passageways are laced below, and newer ones above. The locals use the roof to bypass the throng below, but you can simply use it as a place to enjoy the view.

The food. Your mileage may vary, but I love falafel and shawarma in pita, hummus, and cucumber and tomato. The only downside is that there’s no bacon anywhere.

I found the implementation of kosher rules very interesting. Most restaurants do not keep kosher, but those that do are labeled as either meat or dairy (since the two are not allowed to mix). You can have pizza, but no meat toppings. Or you can have falafel (Israel’s national food—possibly in a semi-ironic way?), which I never even noticed was dairy-free. You can even go to kosher McDonald’s (we did not) and get a “Big American” burger, but you can’t add cheese.

The people. Get out of your tour group and meet some real Israelis. We did this by having dinner in a woman’s home (there are any number of people willing to do this, but we visited Iris: www.amechayeisrael.com). For the cost of a rather expensive dinner we had a truly fantastic dinner (with an obscene amount of delicious food), two or three bottles of wine, and hours of conversation on everything from American TV to cats to psychic powers to religion and politics. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the trip.

Another high point was allowing ourselves to accept a little Bedouin hospitality in the Old City. Of course, the shopkeeper would have been happier if we’d ended up buying one of his soft silk rugs, but he didn’t seem to begrudge the conversation and tea we shared.

What’s challenging:
The heat. Ohmygod, why did we go in July/August? I don’t recommend this. It was around 100°F most of the time, and we always seemed to end up out in the open during the hottest parts of the day, like when we visited Masada, the ruins of an impressive 200-year-old mountaintop fortress, at noon. I like hot weather, but there are limits.

The ubiquity of religion. Even a religious person will feel the strain of this, I suspect, because the three big “Western” religions are all heavily represented and have differing customs. Men have it relatively easy: for you it’s mainly a question of whether hats are required or forbidden. As a woman, I felt religion’s effects keenly. All of the holy sites require “modesty,” but they have differing standards and this is largely at the discretion of the man (always man) at the entrance. Is that skirt too short? Are elbows immodest? This leaves as the safest course wearing a lot more clothes than the summer heat makes reasonable. Female travelers, I recommend you carry a scarf in case your t-shirt is suddenly deemed unacceptable.

Another issue is that many of the Jewish holy sites, such as the Western Wall, are gender-segregated. Couples traveling together might find this inconvenient. Conditions on either side aren’t necessarily equal, either. I was shocked when looking at my husband’s photos how large the men’s section at the Western Wall was!

The fact that ideological violence is always just under the surface. Whatever your feelings about Israel—and there are definitely points to be made by all parties—the fact remains that the region is barely keeping itself together. During our week there, we learned of two ideologically motivated acts of violence. A house was set fire in the West Bank, probably by Jewish extremists, and a toddler inside was killed. And then, at the gay pride parade that wound right past our hotel, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people.

(A quick look at the news shows that the violence has only gotten worse since our trip, with another war with Hamas looking like a possibility. Yikes.)

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Silhouette soldiers point their guns toward Syria.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Silhouette soldiers point their guns toward Syria.

One of the more interesting stops on our tour was at a hilltop overlooking the Syrian border. Part tourist stop, part military emplacement, it had metal soldier silhouettes with weapons, and it also had real soldiers with real weapons. The hill was catacombed underneath with bunkers, but it also had a café and gift shop. Coin-operated binoculars pointed toward the war-torn neighboring country, and from time to time we heard large-caliber weapons in the distance.

To be in a country that in many ways seems just like home, and then realize that a horrific civil war is raging mere miles away causes some cognitive dissonance. The fact that Israel refuses to take in refugees, despite being a country founded by refugees, despite the memory of millions of Jews in need of refuge during WWII, and what happened to them when all the countries turned them away… let’s just say I found it interesting.

I’ll sum up with a representative example from our trip, which can stand as a metaphor for the whole: our visit to the Dead Sea.

Everyone knows the Dead Sea is salty as all get out. As of 2011 it was 34.2% saline (and given that it’s losing around one meter of sea level per year, that number is probably higher now), about ten times more saline than the ocean. In contrast, Utah’s Great Salt Lake ranges from 5% to 27%—so even at its saltiest it’s got nothing on the Dead Sea. But this fact is pretty abstract. Going in we knew were going to float, and that’s about all.

What we didn’t realize was that the “beach” we’d be going to was made of sand pure salt crystals (sharp!). We also didn’t realize the water would be quite so hot—like shower water when someone else in the house flushes the toilet. Even the freshwater showers on the shore were uncomfortably hot on that uncomfortably hot day. Finally, we knew that we didn’t want to get the saltwater in our eyes or mouths, and we knew not to shave before the visit, but we didn’t realize that the water would sting the skin a little bit even so—and more than a little bit on more sensitive skin. It’s hard to keep water off one’s face when it’s on one’s hands, and when one’s own salty sweat (less than 1% saline, and think of how much that can sting!) is dripping into one’s eyes.

We did float, of course. You really can’t help but float in it, even those who sink to the bottom of swimming pools. It’s a strange, funny feeling, and there was much laughter. Am I glad to have had that experience? Absolutely. But overall, was our trip to the Dead Sea fun? All things considered, I’m not sure I can call it that.

And that’s exactly how I feel about the trip as a whole: I’m entirely glad we went, but it hasn’t made my list of places to return to again.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Israel in summer, part 7: The trip winds down

Then it was Saturday again, and again nothing was open. We slept in, for once, and headed to the Old City. I got us lost, like a moron, and a man gave us directions and then extorted us for “donations.” There is a culture in the crowded tourist sites of what I almost want to call harassment—aggressive deal-making or outright panhandling. This is not my favorite thing, and I’ll be happy to have a rest from it when we get home.

We finally arrived at the Tower of David, and wandered through the pretty unimpressive exhibit until we ran into Ken and Nori. Together we went back over the stations of the cross, which were hard to find. Ken bought a map of them and they were still hard to find. When we were done we tried to think of something else to do, but failed at it and went back to the hotel for a nap.

The Tower of David.

The Tower of David.

Mom decided to keep napping through the evening, so it was just me and Husband exploring the city. We started walking through the vibrant area near the hotel, but it was dead, even though the sun had set. It was almost fully dark, and as we walked, the stores and restaurants started to open up. We ended up being the first diners at a place in a little square. When we walked back toward the hotel everything was open again and there was a protest or rally in the square. We couldn’t tell what was being said, of course, but the speaker was angry. There was, again, a lot of security, and we knew that it might not be overkill. We tried to avoid the plaza, but would have gotten lost doing it.

Charming Jerusalem is charming.

Charming Jerusalem is charming.

Sunday was a day too many. We went back to the Old City again and ran into a Bedouin named Neil (or something like that). He took us up to the “roof,” which did have amazing views, and then into his shop where he brought us tea and let us try on strange garb and tried to sell us things. All we bought was one pendant.

The Husband enjoying some bedouin hospitality.

The Husband enjoying some bedouin hospitality.

Then we tried to visit City of David, but everything went wrong. We bought tickets and then found out that it was a long underground tunnel, so Mom didn’t want to go. We also couldn’t go, because you can’t go barefoot through the deep water, and didn’t have water shoes. After a long struggle we got our money back and gave up and went back to the hotel for a nap and to pack.

After dark we went out and ended up eating at a lovely restaurant that specialized in seafood—it was the first we’d seen! Shrimps in many sauces, and a lovely meze of sauces and hummus and focaccia bread. Delicious.

In the square, the protest or rally or memorial was happening again.

At four in the morning, our cab arrived to take us to the airport, and the long journey home began. Did I have a great time in Israel? I can’t entirely say that I did. But I did learn a lot, and I will never regret travelling to a new place, even when it’s too hot and the religion makes me squirm and our guide is a moron. I wonder whatever happened to Tomer?

Israel in summer, part 6: Flavors of Israel

The next day we first stopped at Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The site was used by a sect that was really, really into bathing. We saw the actual scrolls the previous day, of course, in the museum. This was just more ruins. It was very hot out there, at least 100. I hate to say it, but it was basically too hot to care about ruins, especially when you hate your tour guide. He was bossy and uninformative and apparently very concerned about being sued if someone fell.

Ruins at Qumran.

Ruins at Qumran.

Next we stopped at a kibbutz that makes products from the Dead Sea minerals, called Ahava. I would have liked to see the factory in operation, but the place we stopped was just a gift shop.

Crazy salt sculptures at the Avada shop.

Crazy salt sculptures at the Avada shop.

From there we went to Masada–a fortress made by Herod, way, way up on an unpromising hill. It was built there because it would be so easy to defend. But it didn’t work; in the end the people there were besieged and killed themselves rather than become enslaved. Whoops. Still, it is a very impressive site. Amazing that people were able to live there and even retain their obsession with bathing and saunas and such. It’s also funny because it’s way, way up on a hill and yet it’s only at approximately sea level. I am still not clear on what they ate up there besides pigeons and fruit. It was noonish when we visited, which seems like the worst possible time to be somewhere so bloody hot, but I’m not in charge.

Masada. It really was a marvel.

Masada. It really was a marvel.

After lunch in the cafeteria, we went to the Dead Sea. This is really quite an experience, not one I’d call entirely pleasant, but an experience! First of all, the shore of the sea has receded very far from the “resort” where we parked and changed and such. There’s a “train”–some seats pulled by a tractor–that goes to and from the shore every 15 minutes. Also, Israel could take a few cues from Scandinavia on how to design public bath-type infrastructure. The “resort” had dirty bathrooms with wet, grimy floors. Third, I wish someone had told me before we left for this trip how sharp the “sand” at the shore is. It’s salt crystals. Duh, right? But it hadn’t occurred to me. I would have bought some shower shoes or sandals if I’d known.

But! It is really a strange place. Even the Husband, who always always sinks, floats there. It’s impossible not to float. It’s hard to stop floating; your legs just drift back to the surface whenever you stop standing on them. It really is saltier than salt. Sweat drips in your eyes, but don’t you dare try to wipe it away, because your hands are covered in something much worse than sweat. There were fresh-water showers on the shore, but the water in those was so hot–even hotter than the water of the sea, which was almost too hot to get into—that it was hardly worth it. Also, the water burns men’s junk. Not women’s, apparently, so that’s one more check for internal gonads (and having tougher skin in one’s nether regions). We laughed as a set of three guys waded in and successively discovered that fact. Hee hee. The Husband found a hat floating in the water and kept it, because he is strange.

Back in Jerusalem we said goodbye to our traveling companions and got ready for our dinner with Iris. This was one of the highlights of the trip, a meal with a real Israeli in her home, though getting there was an adventure. The cabdriver we flagged down couldn’t understand me or read English (I’d written the address, as recommended), but he zoomed off confidently. Then he pulled over and asked a stranger to read the address I’d written. Then he called someone to find out where the street was. I had to talk to the person for a minute. Eep! We did find it, though, and in fact it felt like we were going the right way the whole time.

Iris was immediately wonderful. Her “sister” Tami was there too, and over a very long and excellent dinner of many courses we discussed everything from American TV to politics. That day, or maybe the day before, someone had burnt a house in the West Bank and a little child was killed. They said that as Israelis they wouldn’t go to the Old City the next day, out of respect. But oh, did we talk about everything. Israelis (or at least these two) like us think their government is crazy, and want peace. They support the Palestinians but also, of course, are pro-Israel. They know much more about American television than we do.

Israel in summer, part 5: The “new” city of Jerusalem

We began our “new city” day at the Israel Museum, which had many more exhibits than we were able to see. One of the most striking is a big model of the Old City, but it also contains the Dead Sea Scrolls, strange sculptures, and antiquities like mosaics, Egyptian stuff, and Roman glass. I would have like to spend more time there.

Scale model of the old city.

Scale model of the old city.

Then it was on to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. Honestly, I think the one in D.C. is more affecting. There was a wealth of information here, though, and the children’s memorial, a very dark room with reflected points of light, where the names and ages of the dead children are read, was touching. There was a HUGE group of soldiers at the museum, which made it hard to get through. The museum has no shortcuts through the back and forth structure, so it was a maze.

We had lunch in the cafeteria there, which was divided into “meat” and “dairy.” We chose dairy. Apparently fish goes both ways. Oddly, few restaurants we’ve been to are kosher, but our dinner place was too, and it was on the “dairy” side.

Next we TRIED to visit the Knesset. Almost the first thing the guide said this morning (but not so early we could have done anything about it—Avshalom is a terrible guide) was that we needed passports for the Knesset. So back I went to the hotel while we waited for Israel Museum exhibits to open. What he didn’t tell us–and apparently didn’t know–is that there’s also a dress code for the Knesset: no shorts, t-shirts, sandals, etc. Most of the group didn’t pass, but weirdly I did (in my orange dress). We learned about Israeli democracy, and the key word is transparency. I wish we had some of that! While we’re at it, I wish we had a party system with coalition governments, but that’s a different story. We watched the rest of the group walk away, through the security fence, and had only to hope that they’d come back for us.

Mural by Chagall in the Knesset.

Mural by Chagall in the Knesset.

They did. Or rather, Avshalom did, and then we went back to the Israel Museum for the others, and then WALKED BACK to the same exact place he’d picked us up to look at a stupid menorah statue. He is really an idiot. I dislike him intensely.

We drove through the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, gawking at the Hasidic Jews. Seems kind of rude. I wondered what would happen to us improperly dressed gawking tourists if our bus broke down, but thankfully we didn’t have to find out. We skipped a stop from our schedule, Ammunition Hill. Will ask Avshalom tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, a pride parade was setting up outside our window. It looked very small compared to home, and with a HUGE police presence. This was needed, though, because there was a stabbing. We saw… not it, but the response to it. The emergency vehicles that had been trailing the parade suddenly dove through it like parting the Red Sea. Husband looked it up to know what had happened and found early news reports about the stabbing. In a shocking coincidence, apparently the same stabber attacked the parade 10 years ago, when Husband’s cousin was marching in it. Small world. The stabber had apparently just been released from prison, having had a 12-year sentence commuted to 10. Great job, guys. He was clearly not rehabilitated.

Our view of the Jerusalem Pride parade from the hotel window.

Our view of the Jerusalem Pride parade from the hotel window.

Even before the sirens started up, I’d been thinking how brave the queers of Israel must be to march in their pride parade. I didn’t even know how true that was.

 

Israel in summer, part 4: A city divided

Our first stop in Jerusalem was at Rachel’s Tomb, which is down a long, unpromising street of high concrete walls built to protect the Jewish and Christian worshippers from attacks. I didn’t go inside. It looked like there was little to see and I was unclear on the garb required and made very uncomfortable by the whole thing. This felt like a genuine, still-in-use religious site, and my secular tourism felt unwelcome.

Even doves need bulletproof vests here?

Even doves need bulletproof vests here?

The first real stop of the day was Bethlehem, which is in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is in the West Bank. We had to get out of the bus, walk through a border, and meet a different guide on the other side–Adel. He was like Tomer light, but I presume he was a Palestinian Christian, because those are the things his guiding focused on.

He took us to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which supposedly covers the place where Jesus was born. It’s a large church, shared by various Christian sects, with predominantly Byzantine art. Talk about gaudy! There was a mass downstairs when we went, so we had to wait seemingly forever to go down to the spot where Jesus was born, and then it was so crowded that we could barely see anything. Supposedly the manger is down there too, but I didn’t see it. I was surprised a stable would have been around long enough for people to start venerating it, but Bethlehem was in Jesus’s lifetime a very small town, I guess. It is pretty much inside Jerusalem these days.

They never heard the phrase, "tone it down."

They never heard the phrase, “tone it down.”

Next we visited a gift shop, which I suspect was run by Adel’s family. This took a very long time.

We got lost both ways going through the border again. We had to show passports to get back to the “Israel” side, though the person looking really wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

The border.

The border.

Then Tomer handed us over to a new guide, Avshalom, who was a huge step down from Tomer. Where Tomer was confident, Avshalom was timid and uncertain. We started with a VERY overpriced lunch, then visited the Mount of Olives. There is a massive Jewish cemetery there; very hot and grim, with no vegetation to speak of. At the base of the hill we drove past the Garden of Gethsemanee, which seems quite far outside the city for a quick place to go pray. We only drove past the garden, unfortunately.

The cemetery. To me it seemed a grim place to

The cemetery. To me it seemed a grim place to be dead.

Finally we arrived at the Old City. We entered through the Zion gate, which is riddled with bullet holes. As it turns out, much of the “Old City” is only 50 years old, having been destroyed in 1948 and rebuilt after a few wars. As always, it’s strange to see how the country lives with history–and isn’t too precious about it. We are allowed to touch almost everything. The drag is the religious part, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so sexist. You really can’t tell me that god is offended by my shoulders. He made them!

Bullet holes in the Zion Gate. Just inside is a huge mezuzah made from an artillery shell.

Bullet holes in the Zion Gate. Just inside is a huge mezuzah made from an artillery shell.

At the old city, the first stop was David’s Tomb. Upstairs from the tomb is the room where the Last Supper supposedly took place–except that there’s absolutely no evidence to support that “tradition,” as Avshalom called it, and plenty to support the fact that the building dates only to the Crusader era. Oh well.

After that we walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus died. As the story goes, all the important places (location of crosses, tomb) were once outside the city, but since they are now holy places there’s a massive church and it’s all within the current walls of the “old” city. In that church are the last few stations of the cross, including the crucifixion spot and the empty tomb–the latter having been excavated around such that it’s hard to see it as the cave it must once have been. The church is large, maze-like, and again shared by several brands of Christian, some gaudier than others.

Jesus's three-day resting place, so the legend goes.

Jesus’s three-day resting place, so the legend goes.

Then we hit the other stations in reverse, zig-zagging through markets and rushing through them until we hit the first one, where Jesus was sentenced, if I’m not mistaken. Things were really blurring by then.

After that we hit the Wailing Wall. Again, we were separated into men and women. I always find it weird to be in the presence of people with real religion. I don’t like it. Especially to come and gawk at it like a tourist. But nonetheless I put a very inappropriate prayer in the wall. One that would take a real miracle.

Prayers in the wall.

Prayers in the wall.

At around this point in the afternoon we had an awkward amount of time left (which never would have happened with Tomer as our guide), and walked a lot needlessly, then had less than an hour free before dinner. Diner was good–Armenian, which is more of the same–and then we went to the “sound and light show” in the Tower of David. This was very, very cool. Gorgeous and impressive. The Tower itself is really a castle. It has a huge moat and crenellated top and all the works. During the show Husband and I saw two UFOs. I think they might have been birds on an updraft–or possibly flying pigs. 

Israel in summer, part 3: The Golan Heights

Our first morning in the Golan Heights started in Gallilee at the Mount. The Church of the Beatitudes commemorates all the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount. It has a nice view of the Sea of Gallilee and it’s very pretty, though not very old. It was built in 1938. Combine the newness of it with the religiousness of it, and this wouldn’t have made my must-see list. But Mom seemed to appreciate it.

Luckily, I make my own fun.

Luckily, I make my own fun.

Then we went to Capernaum, where Jesus apparently lived and preached. There is a spaceship-like church built over the ruins of his place, which would have been used as a church. The spaceship has a window in the floor. I like the way that the sites are built over without erasing what’s below. Next to it is the ruin of an early Sephardic temple.

The spaceship at Capernaum.

The spaceship at Capernaum.

The next stop was probably my favorite so far–a hill overlooking the Syrian border, with bunkers and battlements and real soldiers up there with metal silhouettes (and wacky metal art). Artillery fire in the distance. Cafe serving coffee. Tourists. Soldiers. Totally surreal. Things like this are why traveling on a guided tour sometimes makes sense. I am sure this random hilltop would not have been in my Frommer’s Guide to Isreal.

Soldiers, both real and silhouette, patrol this border.

Soldiers, both real and silhouette, patrol this border.

After that we went to a “sound and light show” that was propaganda for the Golan heights and taught us nothing. It included fake wind and rain. I consider this a total waste of time, especially as there was a brewery next door that we did NOT visit. We DID visit the Golan Heights Winery, which was lovely because wine. It’s actually very good.

After that we stopped at a falafel and shawarma place for lunch. Delish. There was a whole table of soldiers with rifles slung over their shoulders eating at the table next to us, and they invited James the Texan to be in a picture with them. Very charming. We actually saw a ton of soldiers on the road that day, mustering for some reserve training. Mary found it disturbing to see them all there, waiting for busses and such, but it didn’t seem that strange to me.
Our next stop was Tzfat, the center of Jewish mysticism. We couldn’t go into the temple on our schedule because of a Bar Mitzvah, so we mostly had time to stroll down the artist-lined street and be tempted by their wares.

Tzfat is a charming old town.

Tzfat is a charming old town.

This town gets me.

This town gets me.

It gets Husband too.

It gets Husband too.

Finally we headed back to the Kibbutz, and over dinner had a wacky conversation with Ken about tarot and numerology. He shared his Golan wine with me before we headed to a lecture about kibbutzim. Basically, they are communes.

The next day we left the kibbutz, after visiting their synagogue furniture showroom. They’ve sold furniture to IKEA–for the worship areas in their three Israeli locations. Our first stop was Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary was told of her impending virgin birth. There is a truly impressive church there, filled with beautiful mosaics from all over the world. The church is built over Mary’s supposed home–or the home of Jesus as a child. They were apparently troglodytes: they lived in caves.

 

Inside Mary's church.

Inside Mary’s church.

Mosaics from all over the world celebrate the Madonna, in strikingly different styles.

Mosaics from all over the world celebrate the Madonna, in strikingly different styles.

The town of Nazareth is Muslim-controlled now, and they wanted to build a big giant mosque next to the church, dwarfing it, but Israel wouldn’t let them. They even checked records to see if there was evidence that the person the would-be mosque-builders wanted to honor had died there, and couldn’t find any. So they had to settle for signs telling the Christians to convert. Tomer seemed very offended by this, but it pales in comparison to Westboro Baptist Church in my opinion.

Still not as offensive as Westboro Baptist Church.

Still not as offensive as Westboro Baptist Church.

Our next stop was Beit Alpha, where we saw its famous zodiac floor. This had the BEST video explaining the origin of the floor, with reenactors. According to the video, the mosaic artist was new and therefore cheap. But he also sucked at understanding Judaism and art. The video made it look like he sketched one idea and then totally went with that, which is what the floor looks like, honestly. An actual quote from the video is “Those are barely cats!” in reference to the “lions” portrayed. Rarely does a historical site so blatantly mock itself. Or display any sense of humor, actually. This was a welcome breath of fresh air.

From there we went to an unscheduled stop at a park with a spring, where many went swimming. The water was lovely. We just put our toes in after eating terrible mystery sandwiches. Could they have been ham? Seems unlikely to me, but the others insisted that’s what we were eating.

On the way into Jerusalem were stuck mightily in traffic. But we did make it, eventually.
After checking into our hotel and having a rest, we went to Lavan at Cinemateque for dinner. It was quite a nice dinner, though we got very lost trying to find the place and wandered almost into a canyon. Thanks a lot, misleading sign! As we were finishing dinner, an outdoor movie started up right next to our window–Back to the Future! No matter where you go, there you are!

Back to the future!

Back to the future!

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