Monthly Archives: January 2015

Following the Beaten Path: Part 5 – Yodfat instead of Masada

My friend, Israeli writer and public intellectual Yuval Ben-Ami set off to see what it is like to re-examine his country′s main tourist attractions with a critical native eye (all posts here), and I decided to virtually follow his path.  In my blog posts I share my memories on what it was like visiting those places as an expat in Israel. This is how Yuval describes his idea, and here I describe mine (which is also Part 1 of my journey – the Western Wall). I have followed Yuval to the Baha′i Gardens (Yuval′s post and mine) and Nazareth (Yuval′s and mine), and the Sea of Galilee (Yuval′s and mine. Although his journeys have a different sequence, a recent reading made me return to his text about Masada, but this time it wasn′t easy to follow him.

Several people sang praises to the sunrise view of the fortress of Masada and told me it was a must. When I complained that I found it difficult to reach, people said there were buses or that I should look for company on Couchsurfing. In May 2010 it looked like I found company, but in the end the trip was cancelled. I visited Israel two more times and never reached Masada. Oh well. After all, I have seen a desert sunrise on Mount Sinai in Egypt, at Beerot campsite, and in Sde Boker. Yuval suggested that in parallel to his post on opera in Masada I write about hitchhiking in the Negev or something of that sort. I was hesitant. But today another Israeli writer gave me a new idea. I had never given the story of Masada much thought, so I almost skipped what Yuval wrote about Josephus Flavius and the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which, the story goes, ended in a mass suicide. Ellis Shuman, who I exchanged Twitter follows with recently, elaborated on the story and decided to post his old article on Twitter the other day, so I noticed and read it. Yuval writes:

Masada is about imagining. Don’t limit yourselves to one version of the tale or notions of scale and proportion, time and space that are not your own. Make your own Masada. Herod saw a dramatic geological formation and turned it into a palace, the rebels saw a palace and turned it into a fortress. Later came monks who saw a ruined fortress and turned it into a monastery. Finally, Israelis came and turned it into a symbol: a tourist attraction, an excavation site, a McDonald’s, an opera venue.

Ellis Shuman writes:

Josephus modeled much of the Masada legend on his own personal adventures. The story of the mass suicide, of rebels fighting against the Roman Empire and preferring death to enslavement, all were experienced by Josephus at the siege of Yodfat in the Galilee.

I must admit I have read very little about Masada and never been there, but hey, I′ve been to Yodfat! Continue reading

Following the Beaten Path: Part 4 – disappointment at the Galilee

My friend, Israeli writer and public intellectual Yuval Ben-Ami set off to see what it is like to re-examine his country′s main tourist attractions with a critical native eye (all posts here), and I decided to virtually follow his path.  In my blog posts I share my memories on what it was like visiting those places as an expat in Israel. This is how Yuval describes his idea, and here I describe mine (which is also Part 1 of my journey – the Western Wall). I have followed Yuval to the Baha′i Gardens (Yuval′s post and mine) and Nazareth (Yuval′s and mine). From there, Yuval moves on to Kinnereth, or the Sea of Galilee, so let′s follow him. Continue reading

Cyprus reflections: a Middle Eastern collage

I continue blogging about my recent trip to Cyprus: all posts can be found using this tag. This post is inspired by my considerations as to where to put Cyprus on my travel map. It’s beyond geographical Europe, but South Cyprus is in the EU, so I categorized it as Europe. Still, traveling there made me think about the position of Cyprus in relation to its Middle Eastern neighbors.

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Cyprus reflections: houses and balconies

I continue blogging about my recent trip to Cyprus. I generally enjoy looking at buildings, although several of my friends are by far more knowledgeable about architecture. In Mediterranean countries I like taking pictures of shutters – I think this is a detail that really makes a difference (I found them even on apartment blocks in Metz!). Sometimes I would wander around the old neighborhood of Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv just to compare various buildings with shutters. I also saw lots of nice shutters in Malta. Another feature that is shared between Cyprus and Malta is widespread use of closed balconies.

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Cyprus reflections: tea and coffee

One observation that we made in Cyprus was that almost every household has their own way of preparing tea. For coffee, while Turkish (hush hush, OK, Cyprus coffee) is ubiquitous in cafes and restaurants, instant coffee still rules people′s homes, and it′s actually served in cafes as well. Coffee and tea drinking rituals vary not only among cultures, but also among individuals. While many in Lithuania are used to blank machine-made or pour-over coffee, there are outstanding cafes cropping up in Kaunas and Vilnius (such as Green Cafe). Tea in Lithuania has much more developed traditions. Most restaurants and cafes offer a choice between a teabag and loose tea, and there is a variety of herbal teas (only three languages derive their word for ′tea′ from ′herbs′). In Hungary, they actually bring a powdered creamer with espresso. In Azerbaijan, Azercay is famous, but coffee culture is something they did not bother to import from neighboring Turkey. In Malaga, Spain, they have an elaborate distinction between a ′half,′ a ′shade,′ and a ′cloud.′ Searching for good coffee can be hopeless in England and many American cities, but English tea is always a good choice (an Italian, living in Cambridge for over 25 years, said that in the beginning it was a cultural shock to see a spoon so clearly visible through the coffee over there). Italy is famous for its coffee, but I found their espressos too tiny to enjoy. In Luxembourg I was surprised to find coffee just the way I like it. In Istanbul both coffee and tea were good. So, what to expect in Cyprus?

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Cyprus reflections: relating to objects

The trip to Cyprus was long and adventurous enough to prompt all kinds of thoughts. But before I start describing specific places visited, I am planning to write a few posts on general observations from both sides, the North and the South. One of the observations I made during the trip is about how people relate to where their stuff comes from. I thought this relationship was more direct and genuine than I’ve seen in most of my travels. In Cyprus one is rarely too far from the source of things.

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2014 in review

My high school principal, who is a known blogger in Lithuania, says that to be liked, blogs must be personal. When I check readership stats, I see that my blog enjoyed much more popularity when it was more personal. I also enjoy blogs with a personal touch. So this year I’m planning to continue posting old and new travel diaries and various stories I encounter. For the first post of 2015, I’ll use this questionnaire as a basis (here are  2010 and 2011 in review). Continue reading

New Year at the Baltic coast

I usually try to find something special to do on New Year’s eve, and I was more than happy when a friend suggested going to the seaside. Palanga, one of the main seaside resorts in Lithuania, is a nightmare in summer, packed with families, budget tourists, and party-goers. But it makes a great winter getaway.
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