Posted in Weekly Travel Blurbs

Israel Week Four

Day Twenty-Two: Thursday 
Today was spent mostly prepping for our upcoming weekend adventure.

Day Twenty-Three: Friday   

We finally made it to Tel Aviv! I remember passing through it on my first day in Israel, but it was kind of a blur. Once we were actually inside the city it reminded me a lot of Florida, except everything is in Hebrew. Once we arrived at Yaron’s apartment we changed clothes and headed straight for the beach! On our way, Yaron told us about the history of the city and talked about the various memorials (both historical and for victims of terror attacks) we passed along the way. He wasn’t telling us this so we would be afraid, but he told us this to teach us that this is just life within the conflict. You just have to keep going.

After a twenty minute walk in the hot sun we finally arrived at the beach. Yep, it was our first time swimming in the Mediterranean Sea! It felt saltier than the Atlantic or maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve been the beach that I just don’t remember. It was so strange; I remember seeing the water when the plane was coming in for our landing, but I never thought I’d be swimming in it. Anyways, it was fun playing in the waves and laying out to tan. I swear, everyone in this country has a perfect body. I was definitely feeling the “I just ate don’t look at me!!” feel when we were sitting on the beach.

After a few hours we left and went back to our friends house to settle in. For dinner we went to this BBQ place nearby and it was awesome! The sauce was a bit different, but overall it was awesome! In fact, we got a special off menu rack of ribs designed for Americans! Oh! I mentioned before about how there are start cats everywhere in this place, but we found the cutest kitten! Kurtis taught him how to play with the hanging plant that draped over his little hide out. He was so close to taking him home too!

Day Twenty-Four: Saturday 

We caught up on some much needed sleep that day. We didn’t realize how tired we were from going to the beach until we woke up the next day around 1! After finally waking up, Yaron, Kurtis, and I went to Moses for lunch, and Kurtis got a fried cheese burger with bacon and cheese. Yeah, it was horrible for the body, but it looked and smelled amazing. After lunch we walked along the boulevard and stopped by the Israeli Independence Hall. It was cool learning about its historical significance from a local. It was really hot in Tel Aviv that weekend (the weather reminded us of Florida), but getting a chance to sit and enjoy the breeze with nice cup of iced coffee made in bearable.

On our way back to the apartment, we stopped by  a chocolate shop (Max Brenner) and Kurtis and I shared an Italian hot chocolate. You can’t get it in the States, but it was so good! Just imagine hot chocolate so thick it reminds you of chocolate cake batter. Once we arrived home, we changed and went to the beach. It was a lot of fun until the blister on the bottom of my foot popped when I was in the water (I completely forgot to pack my walking shoes and my sandals gave me a blister the size of a quarter). We left the beach shortly after. I tended to my foot and finished packing to head back home. On Saturdays the buses don’t start running again until an hour after Shabbat ends. We made it back home by 10:00.

Day Twenty-Five: Sunday

Our friend Mike came to visit us this week! It’s nice having a familiar face from home.We started off our tourist time week by revisiting the Holy Seplechure. It was nice getting to actually take my time and look around. I  saw so much more the second time around!

The Seplechure doesn’t look like much from the outside, but on the inside it is absolutely beautiful. As I described before, when you enter the Seplecure the dressing stone is the first thing you see. To the right of that you will see the stairway to Gogoltha. Once you’ve reached the top of the very steep stairs you will see the mosaics all over the ceiling and the alter where Mass is held. To the left of the alter sits Our Lady of Sorrows (beautifully light with candles btw). If you continue left you will see Calvary. It really is impossible to miss.

Once we made it back downstairs we explored some of the little chapels that are on the first floor. We eventually made it to the Tomb. The skylight is absolutely stunning. We went inside of the tomb and waited in line to see the alter. There was this group of Orthodox nuns that took forever! It was awful. They were literally just talking.  We barely got a chance to kneel down and the Orthodox monk started yelling at us. He said,”leave, you’re  taking too long. Kiss the stone and go, allonzy!” He was really rude. I understand that people need to be ushered along sometimes, but there are nicer ways to do that. After our tour of the Seplecure we took Mike and his dad to Mahane Yehuda Market (The Shuk). They wanted to see how different the markets were here in comparison to the ones in Abu Dabi. After a bit of shopping  we went to Bardock for some pizza and finished the day there.

Day Twenty-Six: Monday

Monday was our longest tour date. That morning we met at the Damascus gate and set off to see the Wailing Wall. The security at near the Wailing Wall was intense (pretty much expected), but when we made it through the courtyard of the wall was filled with so many people. It was fun getting to see Mike and Kurtis in their kipas.

There were so many bar mitzvah’s happening that day!   It was super cute, since the men and women have separate sections at the wall, the female family members of the boys were peeping over the wall to see the festivities. Most of the women were standing on their tip toes to see everything.

The closer I got to the wall the joyous atmosphere changed and it turned into one of more fervent prayer. It was really beautiful to see people of all ages gathered around. On my husband’s side of the wall there was a man wailing in prayer. I didn’t leave a prayer in the wall during  my visit, but I did take a moment to touch it and say a prayer.

This place holds a special memory for me. It was a few weeks after my dad’s funeral, I received a card in the mail from a Jewish man who went to our church. He was always very kind to us, and I remember him visiting dad in the hospital. In his letter he sent his condolences, but he also wrote to let me know that a prayer for my father was placed in the Wall. In Judaism, if you pray before the Wall for forty days your prayer will be heard. I just remember that meaning so much to me. The prayers that are left in the wall are never thrown away. They are carefully buried in Jewish cemeteries.  I never thought I’d ever see and pray there at the Wall six years later.  

After our visit to the Wailing Wall we got in line to go through the gate to enter the Temple Mount.  Unfortunately, an incident occurred earlier that day and they closed off Temple Mount until after Ramadan. So, we decide to explore more of the Jewish quarter. We went up this flight of stairs and we were giving a blessing by a rabbi on our way by.  He wrapped a ribbon around our wrists asked our names and tapped us on the head with something. That was the priciest and most unexpected blessing I’ve received, lol.

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During our unexpected trip re-calibration we decided to do the Wall Rampart tour. This is a tour designed to walk on top of the wall surrounding the old city. Yeah, I’m not going to say it was a waste of time, but it wasn’t the greatest. It was so hot outside and there is little to no shade on the wall.  The tour started at Jaffa gate and ended the Lions Gate. It was supposed to stretch around the entire old city, but it stopped in the Muslim quarter.   This  led to a very distressing situation. Somehow we ended up on roads that weren’t even on the old city maps and it was really distressing because we ended up going deeper into the old city. We were stopped by a small group of giggling and smiling 4-5 year olds who set up a plastic chair barricade and asked for 1 sheckle for passage. We played along because it was adorable. Unfortunately, the  cute quickly ended when we turned another corner into another alley way and found pictures of “martyrs” plastered all over the walls (mostly suicide bombers and political prisoners). I’ve heard of this, but I never expected to see it with my own eyes.  Thinking about my young “toll rode” friends a block away who are growing up in poverty and knowing that they’re playing in these alley ways and looking up at those figures as heroes. It’s heartbreaking to see the brokenness of this city.  

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After about  thirty minutes, we finally found our way back to a main road and we began our walk down the Via Dolorosa. It’s a very contemplative path to take. Well, kind of. It’s not exactly how I imagined it. The Via Dolorosa winds in and out of busy streets and churches. After we walked the Via Dolorosa we made it back into the Jewish Quarter just in time for our Under the Western Wall tour.

 Day  Twenty-Seven: Tuesday  & Day Twenty-Eight: Wednesday 

Kurtis and I both were recovering from food poisoning  and took these two days off. At first I thought it was just a stomach bug. I ruled out dehydration or heat exhaustion because we both drank about four liters of water that day.  It wasn’t until Kurtis spiked a high fever that made me think it might be E. coli poisoning. That’s the second time that’s happened to me here.

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Israel Week Three!

Day Fifteen: Thursday

I went shopping today! I got a cute outfit for our up coming date to celebrate our anniversary! For dinner we went to Iwo’s to get some food (more non-kosher yay!). Kurtis got this ridiculous cheeseburger with goose breast and truffle butter  and I got sesame chicken. For some strange reason, sesame chicken here is not the same thing back home. Okay, when I think of sesame chicken, I think of breaded chicken drenched in sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Here, it’s literally chicken strips dipped in sesame seeds and fried,but you can get any kind of sauce to have on the side.  When the guy at the counter asked me my name for my order he started singing to me.  It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, there will always be someone who sings Leila by Eric Clapton to me. I think it’s hilarious.

Day Sixteen: Friday

So, we’ve found a deli! Apparently, Iwo’s is not only a restaurant, but also a deli!  It was  the first non-kosher deli in Jerusalem and it’s awesome. It’s definitely a place you have to visit with a solid grocery list in mind-it’s a very pricey. I think it was $15 for a pound of roast beef?  Eh, it was something like that, but were glad to know its there and will save that return for a different day. Any who,  we took one of our weekly detours to the Shuk to pick up some groceries and challah bread. Mid-week Kurtis decided we should make  challah bread french toast! We found this really awesome recipe from pioneer woman and I kid you not, it is the best french toast recipe we’ve ever used! Later that night we facetimed a buch of our friends back home and it just made my day. I really miss my friends.

Day Seventeen: Saturday

On Saturday, it felt like I was fighting off a stomach bug. It started late Friday night, but by Saturday it was awful. I think the worst part is just feeling crappy and not being at home. Oh and me being me the only things I could think of were  worse case scenarios, for example, what if I get really sick while I’m here? Where’s the closest hospital? How does my insurance work while I’m out of the country?

By the evening it wasn’t hurting as bad. So, we went to mass at the Notre Dame Center. I think the air conditioning is barely  working in the sanctuary. It was so hot!  During the homily father talked about how all of the readings focused on the sacred heart ( Zec 12:10-11 & 13:1;  Gal 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24 ).

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Day Eighteen: Sunday

 When we got up in the morning we made our French toast. Any who,  we called Kurtis’ dad to wish him a happy father’s day and it was nice getting to chit chat for a bit. Father’s Day is always a bittersweet day for me. As time passes it gets easier I guess, but the sadness still hits a little bit on that day.

Day Nineteen: Monday

Yay, feeling better and bring able to eat actual food again.

Day Twenty: Tuesday

I can’t believe we’ve been married for two years now! Looking back on our wedding day and reflecting on the previous eight years of our relationship together it always amazes me how you never left and always fought for a place in my life. I’ve seen you grow tired, but you never gave up. You’ve walked with me through the loss of a parent, going to different universities, and me working and living in a completely different town. God’s Providence brought us together together and I’m thankful for the grace we’ve been given. Thank you for being my greatest confidant, the keeper of my heart, and my best friend.  Cheers to many more happy years to come!

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When Kurtis got home form work he surprised me with a red rose.  It was super sweet. For dinner, we kept it simple this year and went to the Cheese & Wine Restaurant at the Notre Dame center and watched the sunset.

The sunset over the old city was absolutely beautiful. It was a very peaceful evening and it was nice just getting a chance to just sit and relax with each other.

Day Twenty-One: Wednesday

This has been a another pretty low key week. We’ll be doing a lot more traveling the next two weeks, so I promise these will get more interesting again, lol.

Posted in Weekly Travel Blurbs

Israel Week Two!

Day Eight: Thursday

I can’t believe its already been a week since I arrived! It feels so much longer than that! Today we explored a few shopping centers  and I found a few really cute stores to get clothes. They were pretty moderately priced. I got a really cute Maxi dress and skirt for NIS 120 ( about $30 )! When we were shopping Kurtis decided to check out a hat shop and while the habadasher was fitting him for his size he said,”your head is too big! I have no hat for you!” It was great, lol!

Later that night we celebrated Kurtis’ birthday! So, we were originally planning to go to Tel Aviv this weekend to celebrate, but we quickly canceled those plans. Instead we went to The Inball Grill at the Inball Hotel. We loved the atmosphere there. We both have been a tad homesick lately and the atmosphere at the hotel was like a little oasis of home.

Day Nine: Friday

Friday was insane! I never realized how much of a blessing it is to have stores like Kroger and Publix. Here things are in  open markets and if you need something  like cotton swabs or Ibuprofen, for example,  you have to go find a pharmacy. It’s not all in one place.  I was anxious to go to the Shuk because of the recent happenings in Tel Aviv, but in response to that the IDF were there patrolling the area. It made me feel a little more at ease. The market was extra crowded not only in preparation for Shabbat, but also a holiday called Shavuot. Shavuot commemorates the day when God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai. It’s celebrated by families going to synagogue to hear the Torah, people staying up all night reading Jewish texts, and eating dairy.

So.Much.Cheesecake.  It’s interesting because it’s not like a Newyork Style cheesecake (dense and super sweet). Here, it’s made of mascarpone cheese with a very thin layer of cake at the bottom. Overall, it’s surprisingly  light. We picked one up for my husbands birthday. That honestly has to have been my favorite interactions in the Shuk. The baker was so nice and he took his time to help us inspite of being really busy. Usually, you have to push your way into the front to get assisted and even then the clerks are still very rude and will often ignore you still. He was unexpectedly kind. 🙂

Day Ten: Saturday

Saturday’s here are usually pretty quiet. It’s mostly large families heading down to the Old City for Shabbat.  After mass Kurtis and I went on a walk to explore some more of the city and we stumbled upon a lot of really cool street art. I have no idea who painted these, but they looked awesome!

So, there is an astonishing  number of stray cats in the city. When we were exploring we found two feral kittens playing in the street! They reminded me of our kittens back home. Tom and Pen are both one year old now! I miss my wee furry ones 😦



Oh! Also, we finally found non-kosher restaurants! You have no idea how awesome that was. They actually serve pork and some of those places served meat and dairy together! The majority of the places here keep kosher. So, for us it means no pork, cheese on sandwiches,  cheeseburgers, bacon, pepperoni pizza, tacos, etc. I never realized how many things come in the meat and dairy combination until I couldn’t them.

Day Eleven: Sunday

Happy birthday! It’s your birthday! Happy birthday to you! Kurtis is finally catching up to me in age, lol! It feels weird celebrating special events here, especially since we’re both so used to having a large amount of family and friends to celebrate with us. We spent the day at home on Sunday and it was glorious.


Day Twelve: Monday 

 Kurtis and I went to evening mass and we met an awesome group of people, they were teachers that work at local school here, but unfortunately, they’re leaving for the summer. Mass and Dinner at the center

Day Thirteen & Fourteen: Tuesday & Wednesday

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Israel week one

Day 1: Thursday 

I made it! I’m glad to say I have my first transatlantic flight under my belt. The flight  to Tel Aviv took forever! It was hard entertaining myself for 12 hours. I watched three movies, read my book, and took an hour and a half nap.

I was so happy that Kurtis met me at the airport! It felt a bit overwhelming navigating through the airport because everything is in Hebrew. We took a  sherut from the airport. Traffic was pretty bad, so it took us about two hours to get from the airport to our apartment. My first experience in Israel was exciting to say the least; our driver got into a heated argument with another driver behind us. Luckily, a police officer was there and quickly intervened and settled the dispute before a fist fight began.

Once I got settled in at the apartment,  I took the best nap ever! After my much needed nap, Kurtis, Amin, and I headed out to the old city to meet a couple of friends and see the light show festival. It was so cool! They had fire dancers, opera singers, and live bands performing in different sections of the old city. There were so many people there! Also, it’s interesting to see the military forces here. Israeli’s are required to serve in the militarily after turning 18. Men are required to serve for three years. Women are required to serve for two. So, it’s really weird seeing teenagers walking around or sitting in coffee shops with assault riffles, but again, it doesn’t feel that strange because I’m used to the military base back home.  Any who, after we managed to navigate our way out of the old city we wandered in search of food. We ended up going to Moshiko for dinner (they have really good shawarma pitas there). After dinner we headed home for some much needed rest.

Day Two: Friday

Today, we went to Mahane Yehuda Market (aka the shuk) to pick up a few groceries. It was so crowded! It felt like everyone was there doing their last minute shopping in preparation for Shabbat. When we were going through the market, we saw people begging in the street and a lot of haggling going on with the vendors. I just remember wondering how much the people of Jerusalem have actually changed since Jesus walked the Earth. It’s funny how we as people just never really change.  I’ll admit, I  was a bit apprehensive to go to the market  at first because of stabbings that have occurred there recently-mostly  religious affiliated.  After we made our way through the market, we stopped by a coffee shop for some ice coffee and a pastry. It was nice getting a cold drink since it’s been so hot outside. I’m still having a hard time drinking the water here. For some reason it’s just really hard on my stomach, but adding lemon juice to it helps ease the taste (thanks Kurtis and Amin).

Anywho, after the Shabbat  horn sounded, Kurtis I took a stroll around the city. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed our talking and exploring together. We walked back through the Shuk and it was drastically different. It’s crazy how the city literally just shuts down from Friday to Saturday night, but it’s amazing at the same to to see how tradition and modernization intertwine here.

Day Three: Saturday

I feel like I’ve been really paranoid, or just incredibly self-conscious, about how to dress here. For the most part women tend to dress conservatively. It’s interesting to see the delicate dance between tradition and Western influence here. For example, if I decided to my leave my apartment and turn left wearing a pair of shorts and a dressy top or a sleeveless V-neck type dress that goes to my knees, I could very early get spat on or shunned based of my apparel, but if I keep walking down the road in the other direction for about twenty minutes, I’ll see way shorter hem lines and pride flags.  I like to think that I dress modestly, but it’s taken to a whole new level here. I’m not saying I think it’s a bad thing, I just find it very interesting how modestly can be so strongly guarded within a secular state.

Overall, Saturday was a pretty laid back day. Kurtis and I went to the Anticipation Mass at the Notre Dame Center. The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Of Jerusalem Center is so pretty! It was comforting to go there because no matter where I am in the world, the Mass will always be the same. When I was sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the homily to start, a thought occurred to me, “I’m about to receive Communion literally right across the street not only from where Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but also where he was crucified, died, and was buried.” That was an incredibly moving thought to have. The homily was amazing too. The readings were I Kings 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-17 & 19; St. Luke 7:11-17. He talked about the conversion of St. Paul and how when you encounter Christ everything changes and that living the gospels is life changing. He went on a tangent for a bit about the Gospel and was talking about how Christ understands our sorrows. He said, “You can’t bury your head in the sand and ignore death. It’s inevitable and catches up to us all. When I went to a women on her death bed, I asked her, “What do you think death will be?” and she answered, “It will be me closing my eyes and opening them to Jesus.” He just smiled and said, “Such faith.” I always struggle with doubt, and I’m crying again just writing about it; it’s so beautiful to me. I can tell that I’m going to be a complete mess when we go to mass at Calvary.

After Mass Kurtis, Amin, and I went in search of food and ended up settling on pizza. I keep forgetting that you can’t get meat and cheese together on food here! The pizza place we found reminded me of Sapori di Napoli back home.  They had a lot of specialty pizzas and they were named after each neighborhood in the area. After pizza, we grabbed ice cream on the way home.

Day Four: Sunday

On Sunday, we went back to the Shuk to grab a few ingredients that we needed to make dinner. It’s fun getting to see all of the different foods and colors in the market. When we got back home I  I did laundry and hung it to dry for the first time. I was very paranoid that something would fly off the drying rack. When I took the last pin out of the bag it flew out of my hand, and I think it’s probably still stuck to the side of the building, lol! Sunday was Jerusalem Day, so we just stayed home for the most part. Better to avoid the crowds and flag-cape wearing Jerusalemites.

Day five: Monday

On Monday, I got to spend some more time exploring the Notre Dame Center! I met a group of pilgrims from Florida. We learned about the sanctuary (where pope Francis visited as well during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land) and about the tabernacle that Pope Benedict XVI gave to the center as well. They were very kind, and they gave me a lot of tips to keep in my back pocket. I received advice from one of the pilgrims that resonated in my heart in an amazing way.  I think my favorite part of the tour was Fr. Kelly’s geography  of the gospels in three minutes.

We walked through the Shroud of Turin exhibit together, and Father made an interesting point: there is peace to be found in the Cross. If you look at the face in the Shroud, it looks completely at peace. It’s the face of a victor. When we think of the Crucifixion we think of salvation, suffering, hope, love, etc. Father gave an example, it’s like at the Super Bowl and when the players are standing there with the big Lombardi trophy and their teeth missing, the only thing that they can think about is that it was worth it. I can only imagine that every second, every wound, every mocking cry  was worth it for the prize of every soul and the billions of souls to come. It was really moving. I had never given the Shroud of Turin much thought before, but it is definitely something worth giving a deeper look.

Day Six: Tuesday

So how do you describe receiving the Eucharist at Calvary? I honestly had zero intention on going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today. Lets rewind for a second. Okay, so last night Kurtis met with our new priest friend and he encouraged us to go to morning Mass at Calvary. So when the butt crack of dawn came I had like the worst Catholic guilt trip ever! Lol! I really wanted to sleep in but Kurtis kept asking me if I wanted to go to Mass but every excuse I had was thoroughly beaten by “but Calvary.”For example, me “I’m so tired. It’s way too early for that,” but my heart would go,”and I’m sure Jesus felt fantastic when we was on the Cross at Calvary dying for you.” So, I got up and went to Mass.


 When we arrived to the old city we got a bit lost, but we found a priest and a Franciscan monk that helped us along the way. We got about half way on our own, but I’m really happy to have run into them, especially since I was so unsure as to where I was going. The path from the New Gate to the Holy Sepulchre  is pretty direct, but the way the roads in the old city suddenly end and twist are very confusing. Also,  anyone considering or preparing for the trip make sure the look out for all of the tiny steps on the street. It’s very easy to miss one and fall. Oh and the stones are slippery; wear shoes with a grip!

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The Holy Sepulchre was a very moving place. It’s surprisingly not as massive as I had imagined it to be. It’s filled with colorful tile and beautiful iconography. When you arrive at the Sepulchre the first thing you see is the dressing stone, it’s a scented stone where the body of Christ was anointed for burial. To the right of that is the staircase to Calvary and to the left is the tomb (which is under renovation right now).  It was humbling to think, “I’m walking up the staircase (very narrow and steep btw) to Calvary.” When you reach the top of Golgotha you immediately know what you are looking at. It is a very silent place of reflection and prayer.  The Sepulchre  is filled with pilgrims, priests, and religious from around the world. I crossed paths with a man who’s origins I do not know. He entered the Sepulchre without shoes and bowed and prayed most fervently at every major spot. Such devotion was moving to see.

 During the Mass when Father was consecrating the Eucharist I could see the devotion of the Armenean, Egyptian, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians as they approached Calvary  behind him. It was so beautiful. Seeing the loving devotion of the persecuted church and contemplating the  choices I’ve made in life for our paths to cross on this pilgrimage has been the most overwhelming abundance of grace I’ve ever received.  Receiving the body of Christ right beside where he died? You can feel the all consuming presence of Christ everywhere, and it’s the same feeling I have when I sit in front of the Eucharist for adoration.  It’s an amazing experience, and  I honestly don’t know how to write down the emotions I felt.

Day Seven: Wednesday

Today, I stayed home and caught up on some much needed rest. Last night we went to a hummus restaurant with a group of friends, and I tried falafel for the first time, and it made me very sick later that night. So today I just decided to take it easy.