Pesach holidays and cycling

Because of Pesach, I had half of Monday and the whole of Tuesday off work.

Got to go to two gatherings over this week to celebrate Pesach, as we eat foods like herbs and Matzah bread as a symbolic way to celebrate the Jewish people escaping from Egypt.  Both were good, one from my church ended up having 20 odd people crammed into someone’s flat, one was with my work at the food bank at Talpiyot.

Tuesday I went and bought a bike, I settled on the first one I saw a week previously, as I visited about 4 bike shops in total, and this one was 450 shekels, although after getting helmet, lights and lock, the shop made a deal on 550 all in.  I haven’t really owned a bike since I was a child, I am actually very happy getting about now.  Its ok to ride on the pavement as long as you are sensible, I only go on the road that are very quiet.  I think in my first day I did about 20kms around the city and back home.  Anyway I am still concerned about getting sources of sponsorship but this tool is kind of an investment, as it saves me the 49 shekels a week on bus (and that’s just for work, not any social trips)  I don’t see many cyclists here, and therefore there was plenty of new bikes for sale but extremely few used ones.  Even when looking in my church’s newsletter which has a columns with things for sale, houses to rent and jobs, there were a couple of bikes at least 1000+ shekels.   As like any new hobby there doesn’t seem much point in paying more than necessary.

Now getting used to making sure the brakes are used in the right sequence so not to throw me over the handlebars, and this thing has about 16 gears, er, I can just about get used to 5 on a car, I am not sure how they work!

On the Wednesday, I was going to the park with meet up with some friends to play some games, but I first went to Mamilla shopping centre to call for another friend, whilst waiting outside the coffee shop, I got approached by four young Arab teenagers who one of them appeared to threaten me, it was hard to make out, I just tried to mention I am a foreigner working here.   Two of the other lads were very apologetic and seemed embarrassed by their friend’s actions to me.  Anyway I didn’t manage to find my good friend K, (who is also an Arab) as after calling him realised I was at the wrong coffee shop, after a quick ride over to Ben Yehuda Street I met up and went down to the park, and learned a new card game, ate some nuts and dried fruit and got some time to relax out in the park with six of us, then did a bit of frisbee whilst the weather was still warm.

After then decided to do a bit of riding around town, entering on the edges of Meir Shareem, the Ultra Orthodox neighbourhood with the folk there in there familiar hats and black coats, there were barriers put up across the street to stop people driving, as  this is always done on Shabbat or on holidays.  I didnt want to upset anyone so did a U-turn here.

Today after being back at work, I went to the Shuk to go food shopping, and a Arab lady came up to me begging.  I see quite a lot of beggars but this one was different.   After giving her about 2 1/2 shekels which was all I had in my pocket, she ask me to pray for her, I felt a bit bad as I was trying to stuff a large bag of oranges into my rucksack.   I asked her name, she was called Luce or Luis I think, I told her I was pray for her later, she mentioned her brother was going blind and she was trying to provide for her children, the poor lady seemed genuine.   Made a note on my phone of her name there.

Found some shorter ways to ride home.  Plus I get a chance to ride across the Peace Park Promenade on my way to work which is stunning.  I will put some pictures of this location here soon.   Why does God bless me with some unexpected things like this.   At the moment life is good.

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Searching for Jerusalem’s hidden bits

Everyone knows there is lots of tunnels under the old city, from various different eras.  But did you know there’s another hidden way to get around the old city?

Try looking up.

But how to get up onto the roof tops?

Well last year I saw these steps, at first I thought it was just a person’s private stairway to their house, but after some other foreign people went up, I decided to take a look.  If you are in town and want to see for yourself, do a search for the street name on google maps.

Here you walk quite a way around on the roof tops, often bordering onto people’s yards.   Look to the left of the tall aerial and the concrete dome thing and you might be able to see a police kiosk, some kind of check point.   I had to leave to get to my church service, but I will look at this in more detail another day.

In someways just like the Bourne Ultimatum film where Jason Bourne goes leaping over a city in Morocco, It could be fun to run along and hide amongst all those funny balconies, steps and passageways up on these roofs.

My neighbourhood, rain and towers of noise

I noticed after prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu avoided making any compromises on land after pressure from Obama in recent meetings last week, the next day it rained here in Jerusalem.  🙂 No trivial thing when water is precious here and four or five months can go with absolutely no rain at all.

On Saturday I went walking around my neighbourhood, my house is close to an Arab town of Al Sawahira, as after looking on Google maps I can see my flat is right on the 1949 Armistice line.  Yep you guessed it, I live next to the Palestinians.  From a brief look around, there’s not been any signs of unrest here, seems people generally live together ok.  When walking out and about in this street on Saturday, people seemed pretty friendly, perhaps a little surprised to see a foreigner there.

Looking out of my bedroom I can see in the distance this scrap metal yard in the distance.   Standing 100 yards away, here in the foreground you can some fruit trees which don’t appear to be affected by any chemicals that’s quite likely to seep out of waste metal products.  Recycling and caring about environmental impact isn’t a high priority here in the middle east.

Here you can see one of the minarets, these are Islamic prayer towers that give off this terrible noise that have often woken me up (like when I was in Jordan in December in a hotel right next to one)  as this one is at least 1km away, its not too noisy.

I like this picture as if you take a closer look you can see the rather grey cloud surrounds this tower but the weather is bright and clear in the distance 🙂

On day 2 of my return to Jerusalem I was walking through the Peace Park Promenade which is 1.5km in the other direction, and the voices from the towers started up, the blackbirds which were singing nicely in the trees in the park suddenly stopped and standard making their frightened “ping-ping-ping” sound like when a cat comes near them.   When you think that animals and birds usually get used to man made noise that regularly appears near them like trains, its funny that the Blackbird one of God’s most vocally talented birds doesn’t like the minarets either.

Accidental archaeology

I was walking through part of the old city with this Irish priest I got chatting to the sunday before last.

I took a shortcut through the centre of the old city, up the steep edge of the south side of the city


These interesting bits of pottery were just spotted loose within the grass.  Don’t know how old they are or from what period (Byzantine, Ottoman, British Mandate?) of who was in Jerusalem at that time.  I put them on the wall to photograph and put them back from someone else to discover afterwards.

Click on the picture for a bigger view, if you can identify any of the markings please do comment.

Who is Steve’s Packs? The famous business in Jerusalem that isn’t online

Steve’s Packs Jerusalem is quite a famous business, for one thing I have seen the merchandise, rucksacks and outdoor gear with the instantly recognisable sun logo sewn on the UK, so its a famous enough brand I have seen all over the place, and a label that should be popular with Kibbutzniks and young Israelis who like to go traveling around the world after they have done their mandatory army service.

But since last year, the web site www.steve-israel.com leads nowhere, its dead.  But you can become a fan of Steve’s on Facebook, and the internet has a fair number of people asking similar things like me.

I went looking for a backpack last year and looked for the Steve’s shop in Hillel street in central Jerusalem, but couldn’t find it, so ended up buying a generic dark green rucksack from some other outlet which both the plastic fasteners on the straps broke whilst out on a expedition into the desert.  Meh. 😦

Later I found out the shop has moved to another part of the city, so I wished I got one of the famous bright yellow logo products from there now.  Looks far cooler than these wannabe surfer/snowboarder type brand name type outdoor brands I see back at home.

So here is the famous Steve’s Packs store, its just off Ben Yehuda Street, about half way down on the left.

So Steve, if you are watching this, please say hi and tell us about you and how you started your outdoor supplies shop which is shrouded in mystery, and please get your web site up and running. 🙂

bike shopping and chatting with local in Talpiyot

Yesterday I took a different route home from work, as I wanted to visit three bike shops to get some idea of costs of a cycle to get me to and from work, as I live 6kms (4 miles) away from work, friends and shops.  Seems that around 600NIS (£100) will get me a new simple bike, with used ones fairly scarce amongst cycle businesses, one wanting 450 and another 1000, one did give the option of buying back the bike for half what you pay for it which seems like a sensible idea for volunteers in the country like me.   I am going to leave it for the moment and look at any privately offered ones.   Heck, there is a bike with a flat tyre outside my flat owned by the neighbours that hasn’t looked like it has been ridden in a long time.   The main things I am looking for is cheap to buy and cost of ownership, something simple, as I haven’t really owned a bike since I was a child, and something low cost to fix when it needs mending so has standard type parts etc.   I don’t really have the funds to do this right now but am praying for a source of money of some kind for this.

Anyway on the way home I got thrusted a leaflet outside some shops in Talpiyot by some young lad who looked about 16 or so,  I just gave a quick ‘toda’ and took it from him, he then said something in Hebrew back, when I asked if he could speak English, he just said thanks I took his leaflet as he was counting on this job to make some money, when I looked it was for bedroom furniture, I mention I was volunteering for a charity so I wasnt really his target market, we had a good chat for a few minutes as he was surprised seeing an British person here, lately you probably saw on the news UK/Israel relationships has been strained since the row over a faked passport allegation was in the news this week.  It was good for me as a foreigner to chat to someone genuinely curious why I was here to work for free showing Israel support from Christians.  For those new to my blog, as I have mentioned before I came here not to convert or evangelise but to show love and practical assistance in volunteering here, for me, I have a ‘backroom’ role doing IT support, to provide the main workers with the tools to do their role in providing food, assistance with new immigrants and sponsoring towns being some of the many things Bridges for Peace does.  It was quite a encouragement to see this young lad’s eyes light up at the thought there are foreigners coming to help when the media paints a grim picture of Israel being a much disliked nation amongst a lot of the world.

Coffee shops that call your name

Coffee shops are a big thing here in Israel, you could say they are experts at it, seeing as Starbucks briefly tried to open chains here and they bombed as the native Israeli chains like Aroma were already firmly rooted here.

I am sitting here in a branch of Aroma in the Shuk (open air market in Jerusalem), it seems like the perfect antidote to manic fast paced chaotic style of crowds of people getting of mostly fruit, vegetables, meat and fish here.   This particular branch is more of a handful of chairs and tables out in the street and a few indoors too.   I am on my own, as I finished work and it takes me ages to get home as I live 6kms away and I wanted to go to a bible study group at 7.30 so thought it would be better to hang around town till then.

The way you get a coffee here in Israel is amusingly different from everywhere else.   You go up to the till and place you order, you have to give the steward at the counter your name, you sit down with cake, pastry or sandwich you take there and then, and then wait.   You name gets spoken over the microphone and you go and collect your beverage, from the other counter.

This makes me think, as they only ask you your first name, if you have a popular Hebrew name like Moshe, Isaac, Avram or Jonathan, it could get a bit comical as many people could stand up!

Back in Jerusalem for a second season…

Whilst waiting to catch my flight, I caught sight of the Harrods logo on of the aircraft hangers outside the window at Luton airport.  Interesting, I didn’t know Mr Alfayed or the world famous department store would have any interest in the aviation business.  Luton being a city north west of London has a busy medium volume of flights to various bits of Europe as well as domestic parts of the UK including Scotland and the Channel Islands.

Flying with Easyjet was ok.  The flight itself wasnt particulary cheap as it was only slightly cheaper than my flight with BMI last year, and the next cheapest would of been with Turkish airlines and had to spend a good few hours changing planes in Istanbul.  Bearing in mind as a budget airline you dont get food, drinks, TV/movies, choice of seat etc, this is no big deal when flying to Paris or Amsterdam as its only 1 hour and 15 minutes for these sorts of routes, however here being 4 hours, it gets annoying paying for #4 for a very small cake and some coffee.  I brought some food to take on the plane however when I was about to say goodbye to my parents, the announcement on the tannoy system was you were strictly allowed on bag to carry on, so I gave part of my lunch to my parents, and just carried my laptop with me and two large books loose.

When getting on the plane I noticed overhead luggage space was very tight, it seems most of the other passengers took no notice of the announcement, mostly a necessity with people needing things for very young children and religious Jews who always carry boxes to put their hats in, as well as many people with laptops meant shoving your belongings wherever they could fit often some distance away from your seat.

Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport has this nice Roman Mosaic hung on the wall of the new airport that was built in 2004.   Some people have said TLV is one of the best airports in the world, with its modern bright interior with familiar white Jerusalem stone everywhere, big water fountain at the interest, free (unlike Heathrow) wireless internet and big choice of shops I am inclined to agree here.

The next step was getting on a Sherut bus (12 seater Mercedes van) directly to my new flat.  This was quite simple and I do like this cheap and easy direct to your door method, with the exception of driving very fast in between some road humps around the discrict of Talpyiot which made me feel a bit sick.

Anyway its nice to be back, in a much nicer apartment and in a different part of town.

More soon…..