Chris Stephens

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Chris Stephens


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IstAviv





North America » United States » Massachusetts » Boston March 13th 2016

Israel is probably the only place I'd suggest actually abiding by the "three hours for international flights" rule. As such, a 7:30 flight required me to be out of my place at 4:30 (ok, so 2.5 hours early. still). Luckily, our host had arranged a cheap taxi so he was waiting for me and travel to the airport was easy. But wow, security. You have to go through a scan to get into the airport at all. Another passport check before security. Then a passport and intensive questioning check at security. Then two more passport checks inside security before actually hitting the scanners. Then the scanners (this part is similar to the US). But, after the x-ray machine, they take every single person's luggage and check it thoroughly. Meaning open it, unpack it, and do the ... read more

Middle East » Israel » West Bank » Nablus March 12th 2016

We woke up way earlier than anyone should on Spring Break today. About 5:30, to be precise. We hopped on a bus with about 40 other people at 6:30 for a hike with an alternative travel company. An hour and a half later, we were deep in the West Bank, the semi-desert hills. Most of the other hikers were ex-pats living in Israel, although a couple were also just visiting the area. Some were American, some Canadian, one or two British, Belgian, or French, and a few more from around the world. All of them were very nice people and wonderful to talk to, and made for a wonderful hike! All in all, we did about 16 km, or about 10 miles, while climbing about 2000 feet in elevation. There was approximately 0 vegetation apart from ... read more
So much desert and beauty
Interesting rock formation
Hills and ravines

Middle East » Israel » Jerusalem District » Jerusalem March 11th 2016

To Jerusalem! We woke up early (as we do, since we get the sun in our face) to head off to the bus station today. Busses run about every 10 minutes from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, so it wasn’t like we had to get there at any specific time. The ride is about 45 minutes, and drops you off near the city center. We walked up to the central market, where Marie took me to her favorite restaurant. We got Beef Azura, which, as far as I can tell, is cinnamon-infused ground beef in a soupy mixture ladled onto a grilled eggplant. They love their grilled eggplant here. Regardless, delicious. We then walked through the market, where we picked up challah bread, dates, and baklava, all of which were delicious. From there, on to the old ... read more
Western Wall
Dome of the Rock
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Middle East » Israel » Tel Aviv District » Tel Aviv March 10th 2016

Today was another homework day. Luckily, there are worse places to do homework. Although Marie had to leave early for work, I slept in until about 10:00. At that point, I went to Xoho, a cafe a couple blocks away where I got beer bread. I’m still not exactly sure what it was, but I think it was beer-battered bread with a salmon shmear on it. Regardless, it was delicious. I hung around and worked for a couple hours before moving to an even better place for homework. On to the beach it was. There are several bars on the beach along the Tel Aviv coast, so I picked the closest one. Like most places in Tel Aviv, I picked my own seat, so logically one close to the water and in full view of the ... read more
My kind of bar
Street art
More street art

Middle East » Israel » Tel Aviv District » Tel Aviv March 9th 2016

Today we did almost nothing and it was everything I hoped it could be. Marie woke up early for her Hebrew lesson while I slept in. We met up for brunch at a local cafe...a typical Israeli breakfast of eggs, bread, and a bunch of different dips (shmears, cheeses, pestos, etc). We went from there to walk through Neve Tzedek, an old Jewish neighborhood that is filled with character. We found shops, street arts, and plenty of cats. The people here love cats, and take care of the strays as their own. There are "cat hotels" outside many buildings, and food and water is put out daily for them. This means that the strays, although common, are very nice, tame, and actually perfectly acceptable to pet. So pet we do. We finally meandered over to the ... read more
Real flowers in March
Life is rough
PUPPY

Middle East » Israel » South District » Masada March 8th 2016

The reason I got up so early this morning was that today is a day for rejuvenation and learning! I booked a tour to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. Visiting the lowest point on Earth at 1400 feet below sea level was worth it on so many levels (pun intended). The bus picked us up at 7:30, and then ran through Jerusalem to pick up a few more people, before heading towards the Jordanian border and the Dead Sea. On the bus ride, I met a great group of people: 2 other Vermonters, a Houstonian, 2 Canadians, and a couple Californians. I spent the day bouncing between them for conversation and entertainment. First we stopped at a private beach on the north shore of the Dead Sea where we dropped off a few people that ... read more
Where Islam says Moses is buried
Qumran caves
The desert from Masada

Middle East » Israel » Tel Aviv District » Tel Aviv March 7th 2016

And Frenchies. For some reason there seem to be a plethora of those two groups here. About 30 feet from our apartment, there is a juice place that makes fresh-squeezed juice and smoothies out of literally everything. I started the morning there and then walked down to Jaffa, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. I had a walking tour of the area from the same company that I used for all the cities I visited in Europe a couple summers ago. Our guide was, to put it nicely, VERY eccentric. It made for an interesting tour if nothing else. Towards the end, I met two German college students, Daniel and Sevi. It turns out that the German semester system works differently: instead of one semester, a short break, another semester, and then ... read more
A Christian cathedral in Jaffa
An old Egyptian gate
A suspended tree

Middle East » Israel » Tel Aviv District » Tel Aviv March 6th 2016

I mean, when you've only got two days in Turkey, you have to start them both right. Another breakfast of burek and baklava was the way to go. From there, we headed up to the Hagia Sophia (again), this time actually getting there while it was open. The first Hagia Sophia was built in 360 AD under Roman rule. Twice it was burned down and rebuilt, with the final iteration built in 537, wisely out of stone instead of wood. For the next ~100 years, it was either an Orthodox or Catholic cathedral, until the Byzantines invaded in 1453 and converted it. Thanks to its history and the Byzantines nicely not destroying it upon conquest, many mosaics and murals of important Christian figures remain, including pieces centered around Mary and Jesus - unsurprising, given that Jesus ... read more
The dome
The main room
Ceiling in the upper gallery

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul March 5th 2016

There are a few things you can't not do in Turkey. One of them includes eating traditional Turkish food. If you've ever had burek, you know why. If you've ever had baklava, you really know why. If you've ever had both for breakfast, you probably have been to Turkey. Welcome to Istanbul. After breakfast, we wandered across the Golden Horn again and through Gülhane Park, which runs just north of the Topkapi Palace and is meticulously maintained and beautiful. The designs on the benches and even the lamps and trashcans are beautiful, along with the flower patches and trees. There are also a number of strays, both dogs and cats, to be seen around the city, and especially in parks. Luckily they are all very tame, often tagged, and definitely well taken care of and almost ... read more
The oldest surviving Roman monument
Intricate lampposts in a park
Beautiful flowers, interesting shape

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul March 4th 2016

Because my flight took off at 11:00 pm Boston time, took 9 hours over a 7-hour time change, and Marie and I couldn't find each other in the airport (and to use airport wi-fi you had to have a functioning phone number, which really seems like poor planning for an international hub), we didn't actually get to our AirBnb until about 5:00 Istanbul time. We finally did get there and met our host, who let us in to a very cute space -- nothing I'd want to live in, but plenty for a weekend. Things we learned along the way include: the drivers are crazy, do notjaywalk or you will get run over, and the drivers are insane. Istanbul, if you don't know, is a city built on hills. Perhaps not as much as Rome, but ... read more
Some huge mosque that's not even that important in the city apparently
Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque




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