The city of lights, the city of life, the city I keep coming back to.
This was my third time visiting Paris and it always stands out as a city that is in a league of it’s own. While I was in Paris this time, I had the chance to see an old friend (Rachelle) and catch up before I arrived in Nice. We were both moving to France to teach English for the year and it just worked out that we were passing through Paris at the same time. Our first evening was spent sauntering through Montmartre and sitting in front of the Sacre Coeur with a bottle of wine. It’s probably Paris at it’s finest. We ended up spending the next few days wandering through the city and usually ending up at some of our favourite spots, like the Jardins de Luxembourg.
My Paris confession is that up until this point, I had never sat by the Seine. To my relief, I was finally able to sit and do nothing and watch the sunset over Notre Dame. I encourage everyone to do this. Paris is busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the rush and try and see everything. It probably took me until this third visit to actually sit back and not worry about what I saw or I had done that day.
And this wouldn’t have be the city of lights unless it is seen at night…
London, London, London… After having a two day layover in Iceland, I arrived in London. This was my first stop in my move to France. I decided to take a year and teach English in southern France but I made a few detours along the way. London was the first main stop. I was fortunate that a friend of mine moved to London to study Law, so I was able to visit her while I was touring the city. This was my first visit to London and since then, I’ve already been back two more times with the intention of returning.
I spent almost a week in London before catching the ferry to Normandy so I was able to do the classical tourist ventures within London but I was also able to explore some of the boroughs within the city. Since this trip I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some Londoners who have taken me around the city and shown me a few pubs and places that are off the beaten path. One evening I went out and decided to play around with some night shots in the city.
For a city with millions of people, it is surprising that it could be as quite as it is. Walking around the city at night was probably more exciting than discovering the city during the day. I’ve never been an amazing photographer, but I have always enjoyed taking images from my perspective.
You can’t go to Jerusalem and not talk about the spirituality that is within the city. Between the three different religions represented there and the multitude of pilgrimages made each year, there is that aspect of “Jerusalem Syndrome”. I did not experience one of these life altering moments but many who have travelled to Jerusalem before say they have experienced and existential realization or an existential crisis. This one documentary did have some interesting insights into the Jerusalem Syndrome:
Despite the issues, being able to walk the Via Dolorosa and witness pilgrims in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was something I wouldn’t give up.
What impressed me the most was the reverence that the orthodox believers had. Watching them go through the different stations and the dedication they had to their prayers was something that I think we don’t witness to the same extent in North America. Being inside around these pilgrims gave me a new sense of perspective.
Tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The famous Western Wall had been a place that I had long wanted to visit. Seeing the folded prayers slipped into the cracks of the wall and watching as a collection of diverse people pray was a solemn and venerating sight. With the clash of tourists, orthodox jews, military and other figures the wall held a significant role. It was more than just a place to pray, it was a place of reflection, mourning and joy. Essentially, this part of my trip was could not be described.
For the end of the world, I decided to be in Jerusalem. Our Israeli adventure was coming to a closure and we just so happened to be in Jerusalem for Harold Camping’s 2011 May 21st prediction of the end of the world. Long story short, it didn’t end. Instead of the end, it was more like a beginning. Jerusalem can’t be summarized in one blog post, but I can share some of my highlights.
In a city that holds so much political, cultural and religious unrest it was surprising to see how people live their everyday life. After spending a few days in Jerusalem we became quite accustom to seeing the military. Normally, I cower away when I see any form of a weapon but it was such norm that you forget to notice the guns and you begin to see the faces holding them.
The dynamics of the military are interesting. I found there was a profound amount of respect between the generations. The seniors who built the country and survived the holocaust have an appreciation for the youth who now protect the country and the youth appear to honour their elders who fought to create the land. Now, I won’t speak to the land disputes between the different groups living within Israel and Palestine but I think we can still learn something that these generations share in common.
This is one of those cities where I could live a lifetime and still just be learning.
Just my luck, I went to Egypt and never saw a pyramid… The time I was in Egypt just so happened to be during the turmoil in Cairo and we were only granted limited access, so we could only to certain parts of Egypt. I do hope to return to Egypt. The brief amount of time I was there was enough for me to love the country. The morning we went over to Egypt began early and for the parts of the trip where I was awake I was able to snap some of the coastline along side the Red Sea.
After going through several check points, we went through St. Catherine’s Cathedral and got to sit in on a liturgical service. There were no cameras allowed, which was a shame because the interior was beautiful. But we did get a tour from one of the monks who was a friend of one of our professors. That was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. The afternoon consisted of hiking up Mt. Sinai (or at least one of the proposed locations for Mt. Sinai).
Sadly I didn’t take many photos of the journey going up the mountain but I took a few from the top. If you are a fan of hiking, then Mount Sinai should be on the list of one of the places to hike. The path was easy to follow and the carved steps will leave your legs with a burn so you know you did something.
But the highlight of Egypt for me was the stars. As we drove back late at night I couldn’t help but stare. My next visit to Egypt will include pyramids, Alexandria and more stars.
The first time I saw this image was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Little did I know at the time, it was more than just a film location. Petra was the ancient city created by the Nabataeans. Carved into the side of a mountain, this elaborate city was one archaeological exploration. Petra was one of my favourite places I visited. There was something oddly exciting about seeing a location that I had only known from a film.
After waking up early in the morning to trek 3 hours across a border to this remote area, I was not disappointed. The city was filled with roads, ruins and remnants of a different life. As I walked through Petra, it was fascinating to see the carved tombs and caves. Despite the tourism within Jordan, Petra still had a raw feeling to the ruins. The beautiful thing about travelling is being able to enter an entirely different culture. There is something enjoyable about being in a place where I do not know the language, the social queues or the etiquette. It can lead to many awkward situations but some great experiences.
One of my favourite quotes is: Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sens of where you are going and why — Eddie Cantor
I think it can be quite easy to speed through. Sometimes we speed through just to get through, other times we speed through by unintentional excitement but when we slow down we see in greater detail and with heightened senses.
Being a student travelling has it’s benefits, it also has it’s moments of panic as you are scampering to read before you get to a site. The Qumran Valley was one of those days. This valley became famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered. It also should have been famous for the heat. It was the month of May which is not the hottest time of the year in Israel and this valley was roasting. I remember looking out toward the Dead Sea and all I wanted to do was throw myself into cold water.
Hot Hazy Day
I was thrilled to see the caves and replicate the photo of the famous Cave 4 but I’m a Canadian who can only handle so much heat.
My take of Cave 4
After leaving the valley, we went straight to the Dead Sea. I had always wanted to float in the sea and find out if I was going to be as buoyant as myth said. After claiming a spot on the beach and lathering up with mud I began my descent into the sea.
I definitely was buoyant. I also was in searing pain from a cut on my knee. As soon as my knee entered the water, I had a fire like feeling ripple through my body. I also became acutely aware of every scratch and nick on my body. If I were to do the Dead Sea again, I would make sure to go in as unscathed as possible. Now this made for a quick healing process but it made for the most painful swim of my life.
The other stark realization I had was that it is important to get out before the rest of the swimmers and shower while there is still fresh water to shower with. My tip for the next Dead Sea Swimmer is rinse thoroughly.
It’s not everyday you find yourself standing at the gates of hell but in Israel, it is a distinct possibility. We went to the region of Caesarea Philippi which is at the base of Mount Hermon. This ancient Roman city was once known as the gates of hell. The gate itself was nothing more than a cave in a mountain but it was dedicated to the Greek god Pan. This was once used for sacrifices where they would sacrifice so much that the spring would be red with blood.
This was not necessarily the happiest place to be, but it definitely holds some of the more interesting parts of history. After spending a morning going through the site and hearing different things from the professors who accompanied and led the trip we were able to hike up a hill (via climbing a fence) and catch a great view of the area. The spring which is now much smaller than it once was carved through the land and connected straight to the Jordan River.
The day took a stark turn as we went to the Jordan River. One of the members in a group decided that he wanted to be baptised in the Jordan. This is certainly a place for baptism. As we went down to the river side and listened to his story and reasoning for baptism it provided us with a new thought for the day. It was interesting to be in a land that has so much spirituality and history and so much modern turmoil. Throughout all of this, people are still just living in the land they were born.
Although most of the region has been adapted for tourism, there was something secluded about it. Being able to sit on the side of a river and listen to someone share something personal about their life and make a very pivotal decision is not something we get to experience everyday.
End of the day at the Jordan River
Although my dream of walking on water didn’t come true, the Sea of Galilee was still worth it. While touring with the class we had a day of churches and cathedrals. I quickly learned that Biblical sites had many potential locations. Each location believe they were the real location. For example, the “Sermon on the Mount” could have been on about 7 different hills outside of Tiberius. We visited three. This pattern continued throughout the trip.
The picture above was one of the mounts that we went to and we hiked down until we reached the sea. At the sea was one of my favourite churches I saw. It was a simple church. It was small and it was not ornately done like many of the other cathedrals. This church was dedicated to the apostle Peter and it has one of the best views of Galilee.
There were no cameras allowed inside, which is probably for the best, but this quaint sea side Church was a brilliant place to sit and reflect or spend a peaceful afternoon with friends. Plus it never hurts to cool off your feet after a day trotting through fields and around hillsides. And sometimes, even when you try your hardest, you just can’t escape looking like a tourist…
Nothing worse than having to sunscreen
And if you’re going to be tourist, you might as well do it all the way and take a tourist boat ride on the sea of Galilee. Now, this might not be the pinnacle of a trip but with the right group of people you can make any boat a party boat. It also didn’t hurt to have a sunny day and the time to relax.
Uncovered beside the sea is Caesarea Maritima. This was a Roman palace that was built by Herod the Great was once filled with the innovations of its time. With an amphitheatre, a harbour, and aqueducts this palace was another Roman wonder.
Looking over the grounds you can still see what was once a part of luxury. The sea once covered most of the palace but parts of the palace have been exposed over the years. One of these was Herod’s pool. This pool is now overlooked by most of the locals. I would think a site like this would have been more protected and I was shocked to see the locals fishing just metres away from ancient foundations.
It made realize how living in a country where every stone turned over could be a new site. The people living here still need to live. As travellers who were going through this land, we tried to do what the locals did. So we did what anyone would do and we walked over to meet some of the fishermen.
This became another quick realization that local Israelis see a lot of tourists and don’t necessarily want to meet them. We were fortunate to have some friendly ones that would at least entertain us. It didn’t hurt that we had some fair skinned and blonde haired North Americans in our group that they were interested in. Now I know I shouldn’t have, but at these times I thought it was best to see how much they would offer me to buy one of my friends. I never completed a sale, but I did get quite a few offers.
Now I don’t know how many cultural faux pas I’ve committed but I’d love to hear others…