Saturday, December 24, 2016

Snow in the Sahara

Unbelievable!  Sahara is  the hottest, driest place on the planet. The last thing one would expect is snow. That's a rare weather event ( the last time snow fell there was in 1979 -  it was first time in recorded weather history ), and therefore this is real, exciting news.

An amateur photographer by the name of Karim Bouchetata captured the snow on the red sand dunes (photo above) near the little algerian desert  town Ain Sefra, known as the Gateway to the desert . He had to do it quickly as the snow stayed only for about a day and then melted away (19 of December,2016).

There are some youtube videos about this Ain Sefra place in Algeria - an oasis located in the desert and near the Atlas mountains (see, for example, the video "Algerie,  cote d'Ain Sefra- Paysages").

The snow in the Sahara desert is one of the many occurrences of weather anomality  during the last two decades, which makes us wonder where do we go from here . What's going to happen next with our climate? We're quite helpless about it.  I don't call the situation warming  or cooling of the earth - it would be erroneous -  just  anomality of the weather.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Roof Of The World

"I must visit Nepal someday", I keep saying to myself.
My interest in Nepal began not through its Himalaya mountains with the Everest peak (the roof of the world). It started actually with a pair of... handknit thick woolen socks that warm my feet and my heart during winter.

thick socks for indoors

Wool is considered a magical material and the best insulating one, as it both absorbs and repels water, moisture (merino wool is the best on the market). I suppose the nepalese socks are designed to help survive the Himalayan winters, but they're ideal for any kind of winter, harsh as well as moderate. For those allergic to wool there are all sorts of acrylic fibers, but none can compete with wool. With these socks in winter, I really feel on the top of the world.
white/grey/black, thinner socks for outdoors

I also have a pair of leg warmers, 2 pairs of hand mittens, and 2  hats of the same origin - Nepal villages.. I use them much less frequently than the socks as we have short, relatively moderate winters.

leg warmers

hand mittens

hats with ear flaps and lined with fleece

People that buy the handknit woolen items, help underprivileged women in the rural part of Nepal that earn their living from hand knitting crafts.The 100% woolen items come in a variety of designs, sizes and colors.

There used to be a shop in Tel Aviv which imported woolen products from Nepal, but it closed a few years ago. After all we are a warm country. Since then, however, the winters have become quite cold, and if you happen to have those Nepal woolen items, you're on 'the roof of the world'.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Need for Reconciliation

sunset (as seen at Poleg junction, Netanya)

What interests me in life is people and the workings of the human mind. Nature , with all its splendors, is but a background, not the protagonist on the stage of life. 
I won't visit a country just for its golden beaches, mighty mountains , or the blooming of the cherry trees. There has to be something more than that to attract me, something that has to do with the spirit of mankind.

And yet, during the last few decades Nature is becoming more and more of the protagonist - in a negative sense -  through all those natural disasters that we encounter: fires, floodings, earthquakes, hurricanes, lava eruptions, drought etc...These disasters have sadly increased in number and intensity.

We treat nature badly, and she reacts accordingly. We could take it a few steps further and say that we treat the universe badly; we invented  'colonialism' and 'globality' which had greatly harmed the planet and its inhabitants. God, its creator, is furious. His universe was logically built, and we, the people, in our quest for progress and change are constantly destroying it.

Perhaps we could still do something about it, and stop the abrupt deterioration, but we need great minds for that. So far, there aren't any capable of leading us towards reconciliation with God and nature.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Asking for Direction

Karlo  Vivary

Although I'm usually equipped with a street map, I prefer to ask for direction whenever I'm in a new place.People are always willing to help, and it creates a real kind of interaction with the local people.

Once, in Durban, South Africa, I wished to visit the famous indian market, so I asked someone who seemed to  to be of indian descent (there's a large indian community in this city) to direct me to my desired destination.

He said to me: "you're on the right street; it's a  long street but just keep going straight and looking down. By the quantity of litter on the pavement, you'll know when you're close to the indian market". His words about the litter made me smile and put me into a good mood.

In Bucharest, Romania, there's the museum of the Village,  and the museum of the romanian Peasant.  The first is an open air museum displaying rural homes, the other one displays traditional costumes, ceramic,wood ,and iron objects of rural Romania.

For some reason, (probably because both deal with rural aspects) I confused the two, asked the wrong question and reached the wrong place, but as a result of this confusion I got to visit both museums. My gain and pleasure.

In Karlo Vivary, the Czech republic, I almost lost the last bus back to Prague. Here I felt for the first time the meaning of language barrier. People got me in such a mess with their inaccurate  directions, that even the street map couldn't save me.The signs everywhere were in the czech language only.

For a woman alone it could be dangerous to ask for help on the street, but one has to use one's common sense and know how to avoid certain people and situations.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Mosul, Raqqah, Allepo

Memorize the above names! World War3  might emerge from the area that leads to, fro, and around these places. 

Mosul is a city in northern Iraq;  it's located on the banks of the Tigris river. It's rich in historical buildings. It has a university (closed now) and a medical college.The population is diverse ethnically and religiously, with the majority being Arabs, and the dominant religion - suuni Islam.

Raqqah is a city in Syria; it is situated on the northeast bank of the Euphrates river not far from the largest syrian dam Al Tabqa which has enabled electricity and irrigation to rural parts of Syria. The city has many archeological remains and a museum.
Its main agricultural product is cotton.

Both places were conqured by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014 ; at present. there's a military offensive going on against the ISIS people.  The involved parties are: Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, USA ( in coalition with its western allies), and Russia.

It seems that Daesh with all the atrocities done by it, is only a secondary target, the main target being Syria's president, Assad. The americans want him out (as part of their "arab spring" goals), the russians want him in. Putin acts on Syria's soil upon invitation from Assad. The other forces that go after Daesh into syrian territory are sort of invasive, and this fact also adds fuel to the fire.

Aleppo (Halab in arabic) once Syria's largest city, is close to the turkish border. It has always had a strategic position as a trading center between central Asia and  middle-eastern Asia. It's currently divided between the West part (held by the syrian government) and the East part (held by the rebels who are backed by the USA and its allies in the region - Turkey and Jordan) ;  fight between the two sides has been going on  there for several years. 

I don't think Putin is interested in  a world war now as his country is in a bad economic situation, and wars cost lots and lots of money. But who knows, the sanctions imposed on Russia by the americans and their interference in Ukraine matters, have greatly offended and affected his ego and he might take the wrong decisions.

Anyway the world is quite the orphan now. May God help us!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes....

"Moreshet Avot" (our Fathers' Heritage) synagogue

inside the synagogue

We've just celebrated  The High Holidays: Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) . 

I have several prayer books that belonged to my late parents. A few years ago I tried to donate the books to the synagogue in our town. My parents were faithful members of that institution ; their names were immortalized on the Remembrance Wall in the building's entrance.

The guy there was reluctant about the donation. A kid about 10-12 years old who was with him (probably his son ) said to me:
'Lady, keep these books; they'll protect you, they'll keep you and your house safe and well'.
I stood speechless. Why didn't I think about that? Such wise words coming from a young boy!

During the Holidays I read at home, out of what used to be my mother's book, and feel good, even proud about that.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Leper Colony of Spinalonga

So close to the shore and civilization, and yet so far from it! A rocky, desolate, uninhabited islet surrounded by beautiful, clear, blue waters . Upon it, a strategic, circular venetian  sea fortress and remains of Europe's last leper colony (1903-1957ׁׁ).

Spinalonga, now tourist attraction

To get there I took the bus from Heraklion  to the town of Agios Nikolaos (over an hour drive, nice scenery though), and then another bus to Elounda village(30-40 minutes) where boats were waiting to take visitors to notorious Spinalonga. The sailing takes 25 minutes from Elounda, and only ten minutes from nearby Plaka village. 

sailing from Elounda to Spinalonga

arriving at the pier

A sense of great sadness fell upon me as I walked on the islet. 

There were two gates to the place and several lookouts. One of the gates -  a small dark tunnel was used for bringing in the lepers deported  from Crete and from other parts of Greece.
The lepers were unaware of what was going to happen to them; they were tricked into entering the tunnel. Once inside they were captured and isolated forever.

the tunnel of  'no return' 

venetian lookout; there are several of them

The fortress is not easily accessible; big rocks, hard climbing, 

venetian fortress; rough terrain

so I focused on the colony buildings (partly restored, mostly ruins) : houses, two churches, hospital, shops/workshops, cemetery.

In spite of it all - the ilness, the difficulties, and the stigma - there was life going on there. The leprosy patients got a small allowance from the government, accomodation, medical attention, food, water, and other supplies. People fell in love, married and had children. They organized their houses  and engaged in small cultivation of the land. Some of them had money sent by their family and lived a somewhat better life than the others. 

archway access
 to little dock where food and supplies were brought in

St. Pantelimon church
(the priest, healthy man,volunteered to live with the lepers)

St. George church- little cross on the roof,  bell on the wall


The gap between the poor and those with some money, stands out at the small cemetery where there's a cruel hierarchy.There are three kinds of graves:  a mass grave for the very poor, graves covered with tiles, and separate graves for those with money. 

graves covered with tiles

graves for people with money

one single headstone, dated 2013

Spinalonga is  a must see. It's moving and interesting, and a visit there is a way to pay tribute to those who suffered and struggled to survive. It is called by some  "a monument to human pain" .

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Heraklion Archeological Museum

The Heraklion museum, one of the finest  in Europe, is rich in exhibits and extremely interesting. It requires more than one visit to absorb all that beauty and knowledge displayed within its walls. I spent about three hours there and had the chance to contemplate, among other things, the original artifacts transferred from Knossos Palace (the topic of my previous post.) 

entrance to museum

visitors looking at the exhibits in the glass cases

 taking photos

The museum, located in the town center, has 27 rooms on two floors. No camera flash allowed inside. In a room passage, dedicated to echoes in the world about the Minoan findings, I noticed on the wall a newspaper photo of Liz Taylor. She was wearing a golden brooch in the form of a bull horn, designed according to the original item found in one of the excavations in Knossos. Beautiful woman ,beautiful brooch.

Liz Taylor 's photo in the Media room.

The exhibits displayed in the museum  were found in various settlements of ancient Crete ( Knossos, Phaistos, Zakros, Malia, Gortyn) - in palaces, storage rooms, caves, sanctuaries, cemeteries, and  graves.

famous bee pendant (found at cemetery outside Malia palace)

These exhibits reflect various aspects of life in Minoan Crete: daily domestic life ( pots, jars, vases, bowls, utensils and tools.) religion (ritual vessels, figurine offerings), sports: boxing, hunting, bull jumping (murals, bull -leaper figurine and bull-leaping frescoe), art (frescoes, painting on pottery,on walls, sculptures, jewelery),  coinage ( evolution of cretan coins),burial customs (sarcophages, coffins, various items buried with the dead), afterlife beliefs (i.e. the dead needs the same items as those needed in his life; that's why they get put in his grave at the time of burial).

I was especially attracted to the stunning  jewelery collections:


There are lots of clay, ivory , bronze - human and animal- figurines on display. The figurines were used by the ancient cretans as house decorations, as religious offerings to the gods, or got buried with the dead as personal possessions, or as protective devices. (The ones in the header picture represent goddesses with arms raised).


The exhibited  coins and seals  tell a lot about social, economical, and artistic life in ancient Crete; they are a "golden mine" to researchers.


The ancient Cretans (Minoans) were considered a peaceful society, and yet many weapons (swords, spears, daggers) were found in houses, sanctuaries, and graves.


At the end of my visit, I felt overwhelmed  by the richness just viewed at the above museum. If someone happens to be in Heraklion, I would highly recommend visiting this wonderful place.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Palace of Knossos

Scorching sun, lots of ruins ,rough surface to walk  on (stones, pebbles, rocks). From the gate it looks compact, but one thing leads to another and even after three hours there , I haven't seen it all. It's huge and complex. The Palace of Knossos. (The name covers  main palace, little palace, royal villa, priest's house with the altar, official entrance Caravanserai serving as baths for the guests, theater area, royal tomb-sanctuary).

father and son checking the site map

tourists listening to guide; 'cup bearers' fresco behind 

Knossos is located some 5 kilometers from the center of Heraklion and it is one of the most significant attractions in Crete, being considered  the craddle of the Minoan civilization of the Bronze Age. 

The Palace, built on a hill, residence of King Minos, and the administrative center  of the entire island of Crete at that time, was set around a central courtyard. 
It  had royal chambers with precious objects, a throne room, banquet halls; storage rooms, irrigation arrangements, workshops, wall paintings.

staircase to the royal chambers

storage magazines

big  storage jars 

Walking among the reconstructed remains one gets a fairly good impression of the complexity and sophistication of the palace. Moreover, one also gets  feelings of exultation about wandering in a piece of the ancient Greek world.

The structures of the royal palace at Knossos have practically been "emptied" of excavated finds (frescoes, coins, figurines, vessels, jewellery etc..); those  were transferred to the Archeological Museum in Heraklion.  The few items left are, I'm afraid, only replicas of the originals.

'ladies in blue'  fresco

 'bull leaping'  fresco

'octopus'  frescoe

 'prince of  the lilies'  fresco

Thus, one has to visit both places (Knossos and the museum in Heraklion) in order to get a complete picture of the structures + the excavation finds.  I did. There's a combined entrance ticket to encourage this double visit. (In both places, by the way, there are good quality cafeterias to provide visitors with food and beverages),

Outside  the site of the Palace, across the street - a row of souvenir shops. I bought some souvenirs as a nice finish to my Knossos 'adventure'.