holmes sweet holmes

sucking marrow and seeking more

How to Take a Trip to Europe for Peanuts

1. Befriend someone who prefers animals over humans.

2. Agree to schlep said animals to the Netherlands to help your friend settle into a new job, as airplanes only allow one animal per human.

3. Eat, drink, and be merry

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Seriously, though, this quick jaunt in the Netherlands is a beautiful middle ground between Cairo and home. Coffee, canals, and cool weather on the daily. Oh, and World Cup fun.

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Game faces. Hup Holland hup!

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The whole town is cheering for the Orange








Rebecca’s new hometown is also the place where my pilgrim ancestors lived from 1609-1620, before they set sail on the Mayflower. As I’ve explored the buildings from 400 years ago, I’ve heard my father in my ear, reminding me of stories and facts from my childhood.

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The almshouse where Rev. John Robinson and other Pilgrims lived in Leiden

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Pieterskerk, the church of the Pilgrims

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Inside Pieterskerk

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Inside Pieterskerk

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The canal through which the Pilgrims left Leiden, immediately before boarding the Mayflower

My other favorite part of the City of Books? Stumbling upon all of the poetry on the buildings. Amazing.

IMG_20140701_1I know that Kassie and Noel will love their new home. And Becks probably will too.


I’ll be seeing you, Nederlands.




The Good Thing


Cypriot coffee

In anticipation of our three-day weekend at the end of March, some friends and I threw around a few ideas of places we could explore. Ten days prior, Sheila suggested Cyprus — and we bought tickets that day.

Our first night, we meandered down the promenade for some local Cypriot fare — tavas for the meat-eaters amongst us, and “Giant Beans” for the veg, paired with REAL FETA CHEESE and a bottle of red wine. Delicious. The adorable old men serving us brought traditional dessert, on the house. A pastry made of honey, semolina, and almond, it translates from Greek to “the good thing” in English. And it was.

It was a fitting precursor for the entire quick jaunt around the self-proclaimed “Whore of the Mediterranean”, because the weekend was indeed a good thing.

It only takes about an hour and a half to fly from Cairo from Larnaca, but it feels like being transported to a completely different world. Clean streets, fresh air, mountains and the sea — it was perfection.

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Promenade in Paphos


Gal pals

Our time was limited, but the island is fairly small, so we made the most of it. We traveled to most of the major cities in Cyprus, including the capital Nicosia, where the people-watching was hands-down the best.

The Northern half of the country is occupied by Turkey, and in Nicosia, the borders are now open and you can walk across to the Turkish side.


Mosque on the Turkish side

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A courtyard surrounded by local artisans’ shops and cafes

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The handicrafts are all “Made in Hand”


Katie and Nicole, photo by Sheila


Men playing backgammon, a common site captured by the super stealthy Nicole


Birdsong echoed through the streets on the Turkish side



Unlike most of my trips, we did very little research ahead of time, and for the most part we just wandered and decided to stop wherever we fancied. Driving along the coast, we pulled over if we liked the view or a name on a street sign. We spent hours lingering over meals, people watched something fierce, and walked and walked.

Whore of the Med

The Mediterranean meets the sky.



Based on my outfit choice of the day, I was relegated to photographer rather than jumper.

Tree lined street

Driving on the left side of the tree-lined streets


Aphrodite’s mythological birthplace — the rock where she emerged from the foam of the sea

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Nicole channeling her inner Ariel.



Friends forever


Photos by Sheila










After a three-hour lunch, with prime people-watching by the sea



We attempted to visit wineries in the mountains, but most were closed. Instead, we enjoyed the winding mountain roads and cobblestone pathways leading from one village store to the next. 


Mountain village











We pulled into the airport parking lot sucking on fumes. A sign of a weekend well-spent. 

Glamour shots


Twelve Sights on Safari

For my first safari in Kenya, the savannah gave to me: 

Twelve dozen termite hills


Twelve dozen is actually an understatement. Those hills were everywhere — and massive. Here’s a lizard sunning himself on one.

Eleven herds of elephants


This was the first elephant we saw, all by his lonesome. By the time we left the park, I stopped taking out my camera when we saw the massive families trekking across the red dirt together.


Ten warthogs running


And those buggers are fast!

Nine herds of zebras





Eight waterholes


One of my fave shots from the safari


Not all of the watering holes had this much activity

Several species of birds


Ostrich! (Next to a termite palace)


Secretary bird (He pooped for us. Show-off.)


And so many more gorgeous songbirds, including Zazu!

Six hours in Tsavo National Park

Starting the journey!




Five references to “The Lion King”

**Full disclosure: we referenced TLK way more than 5 times. I just don’t have photos to correlate with all of them. 


“Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”


“The monkey’s his uncle?”


“He could clear the savannah after every meal!”


“The waterhole? What’s so great about the waterhole?” “I’ll tell you when we get there.” (Spoiler alert: the answer is THIS.)


“Hakuna matata!”


Four wildebeest cousins

Antelope and heartbeests, gazelles and oryx!


Three gazelles


Gazelle — the rest of the wildebeest cousins were too fast or too far away for a good picture

Three hippos swimming


They spent most of the time submerged to stay cool

Two lunchtime guests



Came back from loading up our plates and saw this beauty quenching his thirst


And then the heartbeest came by

And a giraffe eating leaves from a treeeeeeeeeeeee.



Road-side meal


And his friend, playing hide and seek — can’t see me!





It’s a nice day for the White Desert

Black Desert Simon's photo

Photo by Simon Glogiewicz

Egypt has much to offer: the Red Sea and the Med Sea, the pyramids and Nile, and, of course, the desert. We had a three-day weekend at the end of February and decided to take a long drive (with many stops early on for our sick driver and small-bladdered travel companion) for a short stay in the Black and White Desert. It was one of the best things I have done on this two-year-long adventure.

En route to the White Desert, our camping locale for the night, we stopped at the Black Desert and ran up a mini-mountain. The smooth, black stones beneath our feet sounded like broken glass. We were sweating in February; I cannot imagine how brutally hot it is in July.

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Black Desert JUMP!

JUMP! We did one practice jump and then boom. Nailed it.

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Most of us hiked up the mini-mountain. The boys ran up, down, and up again. Can you spot them?

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Sheila and the boys on top of Crystal Mountain, our second stop

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When we reached the White Desert, our drivers displayed their mad skillz. To avoid getting stuck in the sand, we drove crazy-fast and angled into dunes in such a way I continuously thought we were going to flip. Bouncing and flying over the sand, I couldn’t help but squeal with excitement. But I was also very grateful when we all exited the jeep in one piece. 

White Desert Group

We survived

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We enjoyed the setting sun while waiting for the second jeep to join us. They did get stuck in the sand a couple of times, as they had all of our camping gear weighing them down.

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We started to set up camp in the waning sunlight, and we were immediately visited by a small desert creature, the fennec fox. He came right up to us, talking and exploring, then running away if we made any quick movements. He distracted most of us, requiring us to set up in the dark, and he later returned with a few of his friends. It was amazing!

White Desert Fennec Fox

Photo by Simon

White Desert Campsite

Our campsite by night.
Photo by Simon

White Desert Camp

Our campsite by night.
Photo by Simon

The next morning we explored the area around us. The hills were steep and tall — a great workout, as we climbed and sank, climbed and sank. We were awarded breath-taking views for working so hard. The desert stretched on for miles and miles. 

White Desert Sheila

Our campsite by day.
Photo by Sheila

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I felt like we landed on another planet.

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The white limestone was cool to the touch, even with the hot sun beating down on it.

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We saw another jeep drive across this area, and it was a teeny tiny speck in the distance. I can’t even guesstimate how large this expanse is.

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Becks, enjoying the view

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Our campsite, all packed up, from the middle of one of the hills

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After breaking camp, we drove around through the Western Desert, stopping at some of the most famous sites. 

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Allia hanging out in a mini-oasis

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A desert forest

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White Desert formations. This one looks like the Sphinx!

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The famous chicken and mushroom

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It’s not called the White Desert for nothing. Millions of years ago, it was the sea floor, and we found shell fossils in the ground we were walking over.

White Desert from Simon

Photo by Simon

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White Desert jump FAIL

Our first jump was so successful, we thought we’d attempt a repeat. Fail.

White Desert whole group

The whole crew

Special Delivery

Back in November, I was doing some online shopping and decided to put the postal service to the test. A few packages have made their way to my front door, and I assumed this one would too.  About a month ago, the letter I received in the mail — entirely in Arabic — said, alas, I would need to pick up the package from Ramses Square. No delivery. Today, I finally went to retrieve it, with assistance from an employee at my school. 

The hour-long retrieval tested my observational skills, but surprisingly, not my patience. Before you start this meandering journey with me, make a quick guess — how many employees does it take to help pick up a package?

So here goes: We enter the post office, and after a few dead-ends, someone directs us down the street, around the corner, and into the Special Packages building. From there we go upstairs, where we meet the Man in Periwinkle and ask if he can help us. He directs us inside the warehouse, which was once painted dusty rose and cream but is now simply dust-covered rose and cream paint, with a long empty walkway down the middle and tables covered in paperwork and packages — and in one instance, eight broken fans — around the sides. 

The Man in Blue Stripes collects my passport, finds my package, and hands us a half sheet of paper. I think, Fabulous! The package is right there! Not so easy, of course. He points to the Woman in Pink. 

She shuffles us to the Woman in Navy, who initials the half sheet of paper, which we return to the Man in Blue Stripes and trade for another piece of paper. 

We bring it back to the Woman in Pink and begin filling it out. I sign my name in both English and Arabic. We cross the empty walkway of the warehouse to bring the papers to the Man in Blue Stripes. 

Ah, sorry, back to the Woman in Navy first. She tells us to leave the warehouse, turn shemel, alatool shweia, and then yemeen. The Woman in Purple and Gray, who is waiting for us after that final right turn, provides multiple signatures and writes a few things in her book. 

We return to the Woman in Pink, who glances at the paperwork and immediately sends us to the Woman in Violet. She’ll help, but not until the Man in Blue Stripes gives us back my passport. We sit and wait. 

The Woman in Gray takes the paperwork away briefly as she walks from one end of the warehouse and back again. I have no idea if she did anything productive on that walk. The Woman in Violet brings us to a desk we haven’t yet seen. She scribbles a couple of things, and shuffles us back to the Woman in Pink, who makes more notes, staples more things to the paperwork, hands the paperwork to the Woman in Eggshell, and plugs some numbers into her calculator. 

Special Delivery

I only had the guts to snap one photo. Here she be.

Woman in Eggshell reviews the paperwork, initials a couple of things, takes a sip of her shai tea. The Woman in Navy walks over and collects the half paper originally supplied by the Man in Blue Stripes. We are directed out of the warehouse to the Man in Periwinkle’s office. I pay an outrageous import tax (40%! which supposedly is a deal, as it should have been 60%!) and watch the Man in Periwinkle write my receipt 4 times (yes, there were carbon copies made of each of the four receipts). Finally, we return the now Stamped and Official Paperwork to the Man in Blue Stripes. 

We sit for about ten minutes, waiting. The Man in Blue Stripes leaves to boil some water while we are sitting and waiting, so his co-worker the Woman in Brown hands us the papers and directs us to the front of the warehouse. 

The Gatekeeper asks my name (KathREEN? KathREEN?) and I sign again while she and the other Gatekeeper make notes in their ledgers. 

We return to the Woman in Brown just as the Man in Blue Stripes is arriving. Turns out multi-tasking isn’t his strong suit. He reaches for my package while simultaneously emptying the hot water carafe all over the five ledgers spread out on their tables. Slowly, calmly, practically without a reaction at all, the Man in Blue Stripes and the Woman in Brown move the ledgers out of the water and hand me the package. 

One final passing of the papers to the Gatekeepers, and we are off. 

And that, my friends, is the true story of how I became the proud owner of the most expensive t-shirts from Etsy in the whole of Cairo. 


(11. Is that what you guessed?)

el fin!

it’s march, but somehow i’m still writing about the last third of our winter break extravaganza. here’s the as-brief-as-a-wordy-person-like-me-can-make-it tale of the jordanian portion of our trip, photo by photo.


initial thoughts as i drove away from the airport: snow! infrastructure! coniferous trees!

smoke-filled, heater-less hostel — i slept with mittens on, multiple pairs of socks, and my jacket as a third blanket. didn’t help my cold at all.

walked through downtown amman. young boys hooted and hollered, and one spit on us when we yelled at him in arabi.

decided walking up the hill to the citadel wouldn’t be too bad. we were wrong!

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roman amphitheater #1



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amphitheatre + amman, view from citadel

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becks and sheilz, taking it all in

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local boys (non-spitters, these ones) carrying the jordanian flag

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exploring ruins atop the citadel; temple of hercules in the distance

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temple of hercules

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puts a whole different spin on “water park”



crazy huge roman complex. literally took hours to walk around. beautiful way to usher in 2014.

strolled through city center to find a money exchange. saw a mosque built on a roman wall. and more shoes for sale than i’ve ever seen before.

stayed in a beautiful “hotel” that overlooks hadrian’s gate. “hotel” used loosely, as there were only two rooms, run by the most adorable old man who painstakingly served us tea/coffee/breakfast.

made a friend at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant. learned his life story as he prepared our delicious meals, played us ’90s music while we ate — tracy chapman is universal — and uploaded our picture to his restaurant’s fb page.

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middle eastern hospitality

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hadrian’s gate

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heard a rumor that jordan and lebanon have the best roman ruins in the world. after traversing the massive complex of jerash, i’d bet money on it.

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temple of artemis, photo courtesy of sheila


this one too


sat in this amphitheater and watched tiny specks enter the park via someone’s backyard. the young boys proceeded to play soccer amongst the rubble.
photo by sheila

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temple of artemis in the background

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looking at the north entrance of jerash

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temple of artemis

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temple of zeus

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temple of zeus, the largest structure in jerash, overlooking a portion of the complex


atop the temple of zeus, photo by sheila

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temple of zeus

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ended the exploration in the second amphitheater, listening to bedouins on bagpipes


photo by sheila


forgive the boots. winter footwear options are limited in the desert, and warmth will always trump fashion.
photo by sheila


karak castle

a city of hills. i found myself perfecting my clutch-and-stick-shifting skills on hills that i swear had an unnatural slope. gravity was not on our side, but we made it!

man offered to parallel park into a tight spot for us. when our car was still intact two hours later, we repaid him by lunching on our daily meal of hummus and lemon juice (nescafe for becks) at his restaurant.

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multiple dark tunnels and few tourists made for a slightly creepy experience

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photo by sheila

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a foot and lighthearted
i take to the open road,
healthy, free,
the world before me.
walt whitman



splurged our final two nights. we’d stayed well within budget for accommodations, and decided to go for the holy trifecta: heat, hot water, and wi-fi!

also, room service. and fluffy pillows and beds. and flirty staff whom we had to wake up from a post-revelery “lie-in” in order to check out. but it was cool, because from madaba, we had easy access to multiple sites. 

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st. john the baptist’s church

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underground shrine to st. john the baptist

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an ancient well below the church

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standing on mount nebo, looking across the promised land just like moses did, at the city of jericho

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the site of jesus’ baptism in the jordan river. it’s changed course over the last 2000 years, so now it is marked by the entrance to a former church.

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the jordan river

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i was on the jordanian side of the river, looking across at pilgrims on the israeli side of the river. the border is directly in the middle, and if you swim across, then you risk being shot by one of the guards on either side with their ak47s.

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we moved from one body of water to another: the dead sea.

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salt build up


the dead sea is cold in the winter
photo by sheila


look ma, no hands!

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leisure time in the lowest place on earth

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my name in arabic


flotsam and jetsam

a few random photos from earlier stages of the journey, all captured by sheila: 


jerusalem hills


in an old jewish cemetery, overlooking the old city and the dome of the rock


journaling at the mount of olives


walking through the old city in jerusalem


early morning in petra, pre-hike, when we still wanted layers of warmth




mickey mouse, impatiently walking behind us


the monastery in petra


not my greatest jumping attempt. i swear my vertical is better than that.


and…that’s a wrap. winter break 2013 finally comes to a close. 


winter break wrap up…almost

the problem with waiting to blog about a trip until 6 weeks later? not only have i already forgotten some details, but i also have newer adventures that i’m itching to write about. so, the last week and a half’s worth of travel stories from winter break 2013 will be condensed into two blog posts. today i’ll tackle the exploration of northern israel, mostly with pictures and a few explanations sprinkled in for good measure.

***caesarea and akko***

after leaving the desert fortress of masada, we drove north to kiryat ata looking for the residential home we’d rented for two nights. in pleasant contrast to some of our other accommodations, we found ourselves in a spacious, well-lit, heated upstairs apartment, with incredible homemade bread delivered to us each morning. delicious.

warm and well-fed, we headed out to explore early the next morning:

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mediterranean sea, caesarea national park


travel buddies

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roman ruins

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ruins of the hippodome, with factory pieces in the background

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the only stone ever found that bears the name “pontius pilate” — caesarea was the administrative center in judea

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roman amphitheater in caesarea, which is still used for concerts, etc

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akko is a crusader city, complete with underground tunnels

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the crusader citadel in akko. it’s currently under restoration, with many nooks, crannies, tunnels, and tombs to explore.

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ate dinner overlooking the port. until the sun went down and temperatures plummeted, causing us to be annoying restaurant patrons who asked to move inside.

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santa in the streets


***mount of precipice, nazareth, and mount tabor***

note to self: next time, rent a gps. 

we wanted to see many of the smaller cities in northern israel, specifically ones that are traditionally part of the bible stories. all three of us prefer moving at our own pace and exploring areas a bit off the beaten path, so we definitely did not want a tour guide. but after getting lost in multiple teeny tiny cities that are not well marked — especially when attempting to reach mount tabor by taking what appeared to be the most direct route — i’ll be splurging for the gps.

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standing on the mount of precipice, where jesus preached, looking at mount tabor, the site of his transfiguration

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morning sunlight overlooking the city



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church upon a hill

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spices in a local shop in nazareth

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coptic christian church in nazareth

a muslim cemetery in nazareth. i can read slightly more arabic than hebrew, but still not much.

a muslim cemetery in nazareth. i can read slightly more arabic than hebrew, but still not much.

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the church built over what is believed to be joseph’s carpentry workshop

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mount tabor. standing in the ruins of a 12th century benedictine church, with the fransciscan church in the background, both commemorating the site of jesus’ transfiguration.


franciscan monk friend, photo by sheila moloney

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stunning views on the twisty route down the mountain

***arbel national park and the horns of hattin***

it was too wet and rainy to hike to the famous cliffs at arbel national park, unfortunately, so we hiked shorter and less steep paths around the park, before heading to the battle site where saladin beat the crusaders in the twelfth century. and fun fact: the horns of hattin is an extinct volcano. wild. 

we abandoned our rental car when we bottomed out on the dirt road, and hiked the rest of the way to the top. when we arrived, winded and tired, a light rain began to fall. it was beautiful. 

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ruins of an ancient synagogue in arbel national park

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horns of hattin

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saladin’s victory site

***church of the loaves and fishes, capernaum, mount of beatitudes, and tiberias***

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the rock under the altar is the traditional site where jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes. the church floor is made of original mosaics.

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the site where jesus told simon peter that he was the rock of the church. my favorite church of the entire trip.

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“upon this rock i will build my church.”

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the church of simon peter, on the sea of galilee

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the sea of galilee

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overlooking tiberias

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high five!

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ancient synagogue, which was built upon the synagogue where jesus studied as a young boy

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ruins of the city where jesus was raised

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the white synagogue

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the traditional site of simon peter’s house

mount of beatitudes: "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" and other such nuggets of preaching from jesus

mount of beatitudes: “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” and other such nuggets of preaching from jesus

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view from the restaurant patio during my birthday/new year’s eve dinner. ancient and modern mingle in the design of tiberias.

new year’s eve celebrations are limited in israel, as the populace tends to celebrate the jewish and islamic new years instead. we welcomed the new year with dinner, toasts, and a parking ticket. the next morning, we returned to jordan for the final leg of our trip. 


The day after Christmas, we hopped in our rental car and drove south to Masada, a mountaintop fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

Well, we didn’t exactly hop in the car. We had a brief mishap, which included an expired driver’s license, a credit card company doing its job but making our travel more difficult, and awful coffee. I don’t want to point any fingers, but it may or may not have been my fault. An hour and a half behind schedule, we were on our way.

The Judean Desert is quite beautiful. It looks very similar to Sinai, just taller mountains and more gradient colors. We edged around mountains, passed date farms, and flipped through radio stations, looking for anything in English. Ears popping the entire time, we finally reached the Lowest Point on Earth. And then we kept going, because floating in the salty body of water is for the Jordan side. 

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The Dead Sea

Because of our late start, we had to take the aerial lift of death to the top of the mountain (though it was much faster and less terrifying than Montseratt’s) rather than hike up the Snake Path, which is obviously what we would have preferred. It doesn’t really matter how we got there, because the views from the top were bound to be breathtaking no matter what. And they were.

Masada is a 2000-year-old fortress. Herod the Great — the same one who called for the death of Baby Jesus — captured the fortress and turned it into a palace on the mountaintop. His additional construction started in 35 BCE. Somehow he got water into cisterns and bathhouses and pools, on the top of an isolated mountain (1300 feet high on the eastern edge!), in the middle of the Judean Desert. Unreal.

Masada has almost a mythical history. Story goes something like this: between 66 CE and 70 CE, Jewish rebels called the Sicarii fled Roman persecution in Jerusalem and settled on Masada. The Roman legion surrounded the mountain, and eventually built a ramp all the way up to the top. The rebels, knowing they would be captured and tortured, committed mass suicide and/or killed each other in 73 CE. Josephus Flavius, the ancient historian, writes that as many as 960 Jews committed suicide and burned buildings.

Josephus apparently based his story on interviews with Roman soldiers, but the archeological findings only partially support his story. Archaeologists discovered evidence of a Roman base camp surrounding the mountain, and you can still climb the ramp the built on the western side of Masada. There is also evidence of burning buildings, and lots with the names of 10 different people, including the name of the rebel leader. Many presume these lots show the names of the rebels selected to kill the rebels before the Romans reached the top. However, remains of only about 30 bodies have ever been found on Masada, and the location of buildings and amount that burned do not match the descriptions from Josephus, who was writing based on the information he was told. So, inconsistencies abound and the truth is not entirely clear. But isn’t that all of history? Of life?

Regardless of the full story, Masada has come to symbolize strength in the face of oppression. A magical sensation permeated the entire complex as I walked through the ruins. Partly because of the history, partly because of the views (SO gorgeous), and partly because of the other people we crossed paths with. 

We stumbled upon Rabbi Shlomo, the impeccably dressed man we met on the aerial lift of death who happened to know every person at Masada, officiating a wedding in the remains of one of the old homes. An intimate wedding, with the enormity of the world as its witness. A few ruins away, we spotted a father and son praying together, the father holding his Siddur and the son his iPad. Then there was the father and daughter pair, holding hands, reading the placards. The daughter rapidly firing questions, and the father patiently answering them. All of it beautiful. 

Just like the history of Masada itself, the following photos can only provide glimpses of the full immensity.

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Overlooking the Judean desert, and beyond it, the Dead Sea

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Remains of the dovecotes

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Rebecca and Sheila on the steps leading out of one of the cisterns (plus a photo-bomber)

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Becks hanging out in what could very well be King Herod’s bathtub

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The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in mountains just like these, a few kilometers up the road from Masada

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Palace ruins, setting sun


Photo courtesy of Sheiler

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Mosaic floor in one of the many Roman baths

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The ramp built by the Roman Army

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Masada (far left) and surrounding mountains as we drove away along the Dead Sea Road

Because of our late start, we ended up stuck in Jerusalem traffic en route to Rina and Buky’s house in the north. But the majesty of this mountaintop fortress was well worth the frustration and white knuckles. (I can say that because I wasn’t the one driving.)

a rose-red city

i won’t be writing about this trip in chronological order because, well, because petra.

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i have experienced and explored some pretty incredible things over the last 3 weeks. but petra? it’s in a league of its own.

as we drove down into the city, past the petra magic restaurant and the cleopetra hotel, we were greeted with a stunning sunset over the mountains. and during check-in, our hostel manager asked if we wanted to attend the nighttime program at petra.

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view from my room. sun setting over petra.

at 8:30, we started walking through the siq, the massive alleyway flanked by stone walls. looking up, i felt the exact same feelings of euphoria and insignificance and magnificence that i feel when i am 30m underwater, staring up at a coral reef wall and beyond it sky. add to it the luminaries lighting our path every few meters, and the river of sky sprinkled with stars above, and you have yourself an awe-inspiring moment. 

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the siq

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fig tree growing out of the stones

the large tour groups bustling down the corridor marred the ambiance slightly. we stopped and waited for large groups to pass a handful of times, and we ended up being some of the last to step through the crack that opens onto the treasury, with a circle of people on the ground surrounding more candles in paper bags.


al-khazneh, the treasury, at night

quiet descended (mostly) and the bedouins told stories and played instruments. the cold, the flickering lights, the vastness of the skies above, all created an enchanting experience.


sheila and rebecca, soaking it all in

the next two mornings, we returned for further exploration of petra. that siq may very well be my favorite part. it occasionally smells like animal waste, goes on for miles (okay, one mile — but it feels much longer when you exit, exhausted), and can be eerily quiet when you can’t hear or see anyone else (except the person ahead of you who is whistling the indiana jones theme song). but the dark red and ochre stony crags, towering above you, are outrageously beautiful. teasers for the rest of petra abound — some walls have niches, others have water channels, most just take your breath away. and then, the gorge narrows and the rock walls soar 80m up, and through the sliver, you get your first peak of petra. 

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it looks exactly how i imagined it. but i could not have predicted the sheer astonishment i felt.

i am struggling here to describe in words everything that petra is. and i’d forgo the words and use only pictures, but looking through them, i can’t find a single one that captures even a bit of the essence that is petra.

petra is the fusion of greco-roman, egyptian, byzantine styles. the nabataeans settled in southern jordan over 2200 years ago and quickly controlled the caravanning system across arabia, specifically the trade routes for frankincense and myrrh. and as they met and protected foreign traders, they absorbed their cultural influences, resulting in the remains of a gorgeous and diverse ancient city.

petra is the bedouin men wearing arabic kohl around their eyes, a la jack sparrow. the one wearing his ho chi minh t-shirt and traditional red scarf became our unofficial guide for a short time as we hiked into the depths of petra, up and down mountainsides, with his trusty donkey mickey mouse chasing us down steps and looking characteristically forlorn when we wouldn’t move fast enough. 

petra is the 700 twisting and turning steps to the top of the high sacrifice, and the 800 steep steps leading to the monastery, and the hundreds of other steps that bring you all around the massive city.

petra is the boys pushing silver bangles and packs of 14 postcards on every tourist they see. “one dinar.” “happy hour, very good price.” “you dropped something back there — my heart/your smile/other bad pick-up lines.”

petra is hidden niches and caves, ranging from ground level to impossibly high, requiring your eyes to constantly roam. 

petra is noel christmas, one of many shop owners on the hills leading to the monastery; and marguerite, the new zealander who married a bedouin and moved into petra in the late 70s; and GQ, Pretty Eyes, and Grumpy Cat, italian “archaeologist painters” who helped us find a shortcut to qasr el bint. 

petra is precariously perched cairns marking the paths through the mountains; and deep colors of crimson, blue, and white painting our landscape; and the smell of campfire urging us to climb higher. 

petra is the little girl sitting at a makeshift table covered with necklaces while her toddler brother arranges chunks of colorful stone in front of the garden hall. she’s a terrible salesperson, focusing all of her attention on the two books she’s cradling in her lap rather than the passing hikers. instead of hearing “lady, good price for you,” i hear her reciting her homework, as she’s copying phrases in arabic from her textbook into her notebook, then proudly reading her sentences aloud as she checks her work. 

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stairs to the monastery

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a cairn at the high sacrifice. this is where i sacrificed a snickers bar.

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the tomb of the urn.

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jack sparrow was on the steps in front of us, and then suddenly he was on this outcrop of rock. jack be nimble, jack be quick.

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r & s, stopping for a little r & r

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caves and crevices

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scarves for sale at noel christmas’ shop

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a donkey’s resting place, near the tomb of the urn

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the monastery, 800 steps later

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egyptian obelisks, greco-roman niches, and nabataean details

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i have no words for this place.

petra is, like the restaurant suggests, magic.

take aways: winter break, 2013

what a trip. after 18 days of traveling and exploring, i have finally arrived in cairo. my internet hasn’t been strong enough to upload photos to the blog, so anticipate a slew of travel-related posts soon. for now, here are my major take-aways from this trip:

1. arch support is vital. and fake-uggs-from-city-stars, you did not pass the test.

2. the holy land should be called the hilly land.

3. traveling with a fellow chocolate lover is equal parts dangerous and delicious.

4. jordan is perfect in the winter for hiking around the 45 square km complex that is petra, but it is terrible if you like to be warm while you sleep.

5. seeing your 100th teenager/soldier hybrid carrying around a semi-automatic weapon, in their street clothes, possibly while eating a popsicle, is just as terrifying as seeing your first.

6. getting hangry while traveling is worse than getting hangry during normal life.

7. middle eastern hospitality is alive and well. between the shop owners in the armenian quarter insisting we have tea with them (“armenians are just as hospitable as egyptians — we can’t let them offer more than us”) and the adorable manager at our hotel  in jerash who brought us tea and coffee on trays, we experienced constant kindness.

8. when a country has more roman columns than they know what to do with, they’ll end up everywhere. in gardens, lined up neatly next to the sidewalk, haphazardly strewn about.

9. i think i’m ready to drive in cairo. i survived crazy, packed streets in jordan that mimic what i see in egypt. i successfully used my “wait” hand signal, merged into nonexistent lanes, and navigated roads without any clear signs.

10. just kidding. i’ll never be ready to drive in cairo.


look out, ring road. soon i will be the king of the rood.

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