Category Archives: Exploring

The Golan Heights

…feeling it very sorrowful and strange that this first night of my bright fortunes should be the loneliest I had ever known. Great Expectations

Two days ago, some friends and I had planned to go to the Golan Heights. It was my last weekend before my mom arrives (tomorrow!!!) so this was really cutting it close to the wire, as far as I was concerned. The Golan is someplace I’ve been wanting to go for months and months and when my two friends offered to take me, one of them knowing his way well around the north, I was thrilled. The plan was to leave around 7am, since it takes about 3-4 hours to drive up there.

Well, at 7:30 we’re calling my friend whose phones are all turned off… At 8 the three of us who were awake and just waiting decide to grab coffee together while we wait. While we’re walking to meet up, our sleepy friend wakes up and calls us to say he’s on his way. Around 9am, the two show up, but decide they need some coffee. At 10am we’re finally on our way!

The Golan Heights is internationally recognized as Israeli-occupied Syrian territory. It borders Syria and Lebanon. We drove first to the Lebanese border:

Lebanon on the other side of the fence.

It’s almost indescribable how beautiful this part of the country is. It’s so different from anything else I’ve seen here, such beautiful rolling hills (mountains?!), green, lush, breathtaking.

Then you come across this and you’re reminded where you are:

Closed Military Area

We stopped for a photo shoot on this overlook area, which was so much fun, I think we were a little giddy from being in the car for such a long time and then finally arriving! Plus, the fresh air and the view just made me feel alive again.

Lebanon in the background

After a billion photos taken, we drove to Kfar Blum to go kayaking! It was ridiculously fun, all 5 of us piled into one ‘family-sized’ kayak, the boys taking control of the oars, which meant a lot of water fights and an intense rowing experience. What normally takes 2 hours, according to the guides at the beginning, I think took us less than an hour! We also ziplined into the river (SO much fun!). Of course, I got stuck halfway down because the other rope was tangled or something, haha. But then it worked smoothly. There was also a ropes course, which looked really lame from the ground, but was actually intense and a lot of fun!

After we changed from our soaked clothes, we got back in the car and drove south to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. It was a beautiful drive, once again.

It was hard to capture from a moving car!

And then we could see the Sea of Galilee. Beauuuuutiful.

From the road, the first glimpses

Beautiful

Then we arrived in Tiberias to eat dinner and walk around a bit.

A park in Tiberias

Taken from our dinner spot. The Sea of Galilee.

We had a scrumptious dinner of grilled local fish and some salads. We walked around a bit, sat on the beach for a bit, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After nightfall, we decided we wanted some knaffeh – the cheese dessert thing that Nablus is famous for – but since we were so far north anyway, Nazareth is also famous for its version of knaffeh. So we thought, why not stop there on the way back? So at 10:45 pm we arrive in Nazareth and stop at what had been recommended as the best place in Nazareth for knaffeh. It was delicious and a perfect nightcap for a great, ridiculous, seemingly impossible day.

We had another two hours to drive home, but when I finally got home at 1am, I was still so content from such a great day. There are still plenty of places in the Golan Heights that we didn’t get to see, so I’ll save that for next time!

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It’s May?!

Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Today is May 1. This means, my mom arrives in 10 days (!!!!), we leave Palestine for good (eeeek) to Istanbul in 16 days (!!!!), and I’m back on American soil for the first time in 10 months in 20 days (!!!!!!!!!!!!). I have such mixed feelings right now, it’s pretty ridiculous. I was talking with the other Boren fellow here last night about how much neither of us wants to leave here. This is really the most ridiculous, chaotic, wonderful place I could ever imagine – and it sucks you in like you wouldn’t believe.

So in this past week, I’ve spent a lot of time with friends, in places that I’m going to miss. I also went to Jericho for the first time ever last Monday. It’s a beautiful place, situated welllll below sea level. It’s the lowest permanently inhabited site on earth and is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho have been unearthed, the oldest dating back 11,000 years (9,000 BCE).

On the way to Jericho, we stopped at the “Sea Level” sign.

When we got to Jericho, we stopped at the Zacchaeus tree – the sycamore tree which Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed up in order to see Jesus walk through Jericho. Jesus called up to Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree to come down for he was to eat at his house. So here it is:

The Zacchaeus Tree!

Then we took the cable car up to the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting and meditating. There is a Greek Orthodox monastery carved into the mountain at the top, which is beautiful. Plus you have panoramic views of the city of Jericho below.

Looking down at Jericho while in the cable car!

The monastery

Looking down at the city. Love the mix: desert, green, dead sea in the background

In the monastery

Apparently these caves were (are??) inhabited by monks since the early days of Christianity

Then, my friend just bought an apartment in a new community complex that is being developed just outside of Ramallah, called al-reehan. So he wanted to show us what it looked like, so we drove over there. This being Palestine, the overseer walked over to our car as we pulled up, my friend explained that he had bought this apartment and wanted to show us. The manager gave us each a hard hat and told us to ‘be careful.’

Then, we drive over to his building, which let me tell you is still being constructed, all wearing our hard hats. The real construction workers, of course, are not wearing hard hats and are laughing at us for wearing ours! We walk into the still-being-constructed building and walk up the still-being-constructed stairs all the way to the top, because my friend bought the roof apartment. It has the most amazing views:

The view. As you can see, the building is still under construction. Love Palestine

The view looking back toward Ramallah

The view on the other side. Beautiful.

Still under construction. Ha!

Then, the rest of this week, I’ve spent a lot of time outside, sitting at the park, reading, trying to get ready for my mom’s visit, and trying to see friends! This past Friday, we ended up by chance at the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, which was a fun afternoon of watching kids’ and young adults’ dance groups dance traditional Palestinian dances. I’ll post about that tomorrow!

Easter in Jerusalem

The sky was clear — remarkably clear — and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse. Far From the Madding Crowd

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, we decided to brave the crowds once again to descend on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for Easter Sunday mass. Thankfully, I had a friend driving from Ramallah to Jerusalem early in the morning, and so I caught a ride with her and got to the Damascus Gate early. I walked with a friend into the Old City for a cup of coffee before meeting another friend at the Gate around 9:30. There didn’t seem to be that many people in the old City when we were just sitting around, which was a pleasant surprise.

And actually, when we got to the Church a little before 10am, for a 10:30 mass, there was not the huge crowd that we were expecting! We walked right in, and around to the tomb of Jesus, where the Catholics were creating an alter for the mass. There were these benches that some people were sitting on, but didn’t have any reserved signs, so my friend and I sat down on one, second row! When a priest came over, I was sure he was going to kick us out, but he just handed us a mass booklet. Whew.

Then the bells rang and the organ sang the procession of priests began.

Sorry for the blurry picture, I was too excited to hold still!

It was beautiful to see! Then, after the priests all filed past us, there was a procession of “important people.” Before the important people reached us, one of the guys in the colored outfit (in the picture above) came over and told us we had to leave our seats. Hm. So where should we go?

So with all the TV cameras and all the tourists eyes on us, we had to leave our seats, and push and squeeze our way past the important people and all the tourists to get out of the way. I hope the TV cameras edited out the two girls who were sitting in the wrong section at the Easter mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and had to push their way out after the service began. Sigh. Awkward.

So we ended up standing for the mass, which was perfectly fine; again there weren’t that many people there so you didn’t feel too crowded or pushed, and I could see the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, though we couldn’t hear anything that he, or the other speakers, were saying, because there were no microphones. Intriguing. But, everyone sang and it was really a beautiful event to be a part of. The Church itself is kind of a tense place – it is ‘shared’ by like 6 denominations, and all the priests of the different denominations are aggressive about their ‘parts’ of the church. So even during the Catholic mass, the Orthodox priests are yelling and moving around behind us. Not the most religiously friendly place.

How close we were before getting kicked out of our seats.The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal

After mass, we sat at a sweets shop in the Old City and had a mix of traditional Palestinian sweets, while waiting for my friend, who is from Jerusalem, to meet us for lunch. We walked a bit away from the Old City, into Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, for lunch at this beautiful outdoor patio space of a restaurant called Borderline. The food was good, but the weather and the company were absolutely wonderful.

On our return to Ramallah, my friend and I had about an hour to kill before we had other engagements, so we sat at the Ramallah city park, grabbed a lemonade with mint and an argileh, and it really was a perfect way to spend a (non-traditional) Easter Sunday. We chatted, watched the kids play, soaked up some sun, and enjoyed ourselves! Then, I had an Easter potluck ‘dinner’ to go to, so I grabbed some cookies from the nearby bakery and headed over to the house of a boss of my friend’s – a beautiful place with a huuuuuuuuge backyard, where she had set up dinner for us. It was quite a feast, and I wasn’t really that hungry from all that I had already eaten, but of course I tasted almost everything.

Friends and conversation in gorgeous weather – you can’t go wrong!

Pretty day

Then, I went with a friend of mine to a memorial service for Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian peace activist who was killed in Gaza a few weeks ago. It was held in a parking lot in Ramallah, and people were invited to speak for 30 seconds, addressing Vittorio’s mother. There was supposed to be a live feed to her in Italy, but it failed, so Al Jazeera was taping it. Then, there was supposed to be a live feed to Gaza as well, but there were quite a lot of technical difficulties. Otherwise, it was a moving event, and Rim al Banna sang and everyone sang along with her (minus the internationals who didn’t know the words to the songs).

Later in the night, I met some friends at a restaurant just for some tea, which was a great end to a great day.

Happy Easter to all!