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O Little Town of Bethlehem

Holy Land - Bethlehem

sunny 20 °C
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Having clearly not stalked Jesus enough, I took an Arabic bus from just outside the Old City to the supposed place of his birth, Bethlehem. The town is in Palestinian controlled territory, but entering caused no problems. I got off at the last stop, on the main road, and then walked up the hill, through the souq, and arrived in Manger Square just outside the Church of the Nativity.

Manger Square

Manger Square

Once again avoiding the touts, I headed inside, and joined the long queue to enter the grotto marking the spot of his birth. And as in Jerusalem, it looks nothing like it did in that time - gone is the stable, the hay, the donkey, and instead we find tourists, a church and candles for sale.

The star marking Jesus' birth

The star marking Jesus' birth

Having waited for over an hour I eventually entered to find a star in what looked remarkably like a chimney. Touching it and then making my way out I made my way back to Jerusalem on the Arabic bus. This time being stopped at the wall to be checked by Israeli security. After informing the guy with a huge gun I was English which proved to be no problem we were back on our way through the hills to Jerusalem, where I headed back into the Old City to buy souvenirs.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in State of Palestine Tagged religion history jesus christianity holyland Comments (0)

The Old City

Holy Land - Jerusalem

sunny 22 °C
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Waking up nice and early in Jerusalem, I grabbed breakfast from downstairs and then headed off for the Haram el-Sharif/Temple Mount, racing through the Old City and past the Western/Wailing Wall, making the queue by 8:10.

Tower of David

Tower of David

The complex is only open for three and a half hours a day, from 7:30 until 10:00, and then 12:30-1:30. With major security checks I had read that the queue was particularly long, and already by the time I was there, the queue was pretty long. Not knowing whether I would even be allowed entry (last I had heard, only men over 50 were allowed up), I waited and eventually after an hour and a half I was up there.

First thing I noticed - screaming Palestinian girls...followed by touts telling me that, whilst I was non-Muslim, and therefore not allowed access to the Mosques, they could guide me to a window they knew where I could have a peak inside. I declined. The complex felt very Arabic, and much like Morocco. Whilst it had been a long wait, it was definitely worth it, and despite not being allowed in, the Dome of the Rock was very impressive. For this is the supposed site where God created Adam, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and where Mohammed was transported to from Mecca. A good start to my travels.

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

I then headed back down into the Old City and headed up the Via Dolorosa, tracing Jesus's last steps after he was handed his cross until he was crucified. Whilst in some ways you feel like you are tracing back the steps of a man 2,000 years ago, seeing every step marked out with large plaques designating each spot (VII - Jesus falls for the second time) and the commercialisation of the route (7th station souvenirs, and guided tours) it kind of takes away from the genuine history, and makes it feel almost like a theme park.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

Following the route I eventually ended up in the Christian Quarter, outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the church that spans the site of both the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Christ. Again this would be a site that whilst widely known, looks nothing like it would have been at the time the events it celebrates took place. Instead of finding a hill on the outskirts of the city where Christ was crucified, and a tomb located some distance from that - a 5 minute walk from the centre of the old city takes you right into the church that has both enclosed within it.

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Going left once you enter the church, inside the Rotunda is the very place that Christ was laid to rest on Good Friday and subsequently arose two days later. Waiting for over half an hour, you are allowed thirty seconds or so to touch a slab covering the rock on which Jesus was supposedly laid to rest. Leaving this, and talking a walk around the corner and up some stairs, lasting no longer than 120 seconds, you arrive at the site he was supposedly crucified on, again waiting in a queue of around 20 minutes for 30 seconds or so of 'experience'.

Site of the Crucifixion

Site of the Crucifixion

After exploring the rest of the church, I headed out to the Jewish quarter to visit the Western Wall in more detail. Heading again through a security check, I donned a kippah and touched the wall. Before writing a message, shoving it through the cracks, and then sitting back down and observing the most sacred place in Judaism from a distance.

Western Wall

Western Wall

Hall of the Last Supper

Hall of the Last Supper

My last activity for the Old City was to head south, walk along part of the wall, and head to Mount Zion. Here is the location of the Hall of the Last Supper. Now turned into a Gothic Hall, and crammed with tourists, this room marks the spot that Jesus held the last supper, before being betrayed by Judas and arrested.

Kosher McDonalds

Kosher McDonalds

After this long day, and eating a Kosher McDonalds, I headed back of to my hostel, and took an early night before the next day, which I had planned to visit Bethlehem.

The time was now 6:30pm and I was in bed trying to sleep. Like. A. Pro.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Israel Tagged religion history jesus islam christianity judaism holyland Comments (0)

Fascinating Fjords

all seasons in one day 15 °C
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My last excitement this summer was to visit the Fjords around Norway's second city, Bergen. Celebrating mum's 50th and my brother's 21st, we went on our family holiday in several years, and for once I wasn't travelling alone!

Norway was incredibly expensive, and I guess it was very much how foreigners, particularly from Eastern Europe must feel when they come to Britain. However saying that, there were lots of good things like WiFi absolutely everywhere - from getting on the plane at Gatwick until we returned several days later at the other end I was essentially connected the whole time! Despite being Norway's second biggest city, Bergen was still remarkably small, taking very little time to walk round and explore. Hence our visit of just two and a half days was more than enough. Arriving in the afternoon and staying close to the centre of the city, the first evening was spent walking around the immediate vicinity, seeing the main shopping area and the city squares.

Bergen from Mount Fløyen

Bergen from Mount Fløyen

The following day we took the funicular to the top of the mountain that overlooks the whole city and bays nearby, before walking down and seeing the rest of the city, including the castle and it's most famous attraction - Bryggen, the old Hanseatic port buildings.

Bryggen

Bryggen

On our final full day we took a 3.5 hour cruise up the nearby fjords, into the heart of Norway, witnessing scale of the country's valleys. It was only when we travelled deep into the cruise that we had our first rainy day, which considering the rate of 75% for the city, was pretty good going.

Fjords

Fjords

Despite the city being small, and our 4 day trip being very expensive and short, it was worth it, and I would highly recommend it, as the scenery was stunning!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Norway Tagged boat history fjords port Comments (0)

Flanders For Free


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One of the highlights of the summer occurred when I took a day trip, along with Saman, Matt and Jenna over the channel to Flanders. And best of all....the ferry was free! Having underwhelming service on the Christmas Ferry out to Lille back in December, we complained and were awarded free, unrestricted ferry tickets for 2014.

The day trip turned into a weekend for me, as I left work straight to London, staying at Matt's on Friday night before the early start on Saturday. Leaving at 5:30am we blasted out the #choons as we made our way down to Dover. As the weekend was the first day of the summer holidays it was absolutely packed, and we ended up spending the whole journey across the channel in the restaurant queuing for breakfast.

After this energy boost, we got back in the car, entertaining the other passengers with our singing and dancing as we entered the French roads, making our way over to the Belgian border, and our first city of the day - Ypres. Being Kevin I had sussed out the sights, prices, and car parking arrangements for us all, and we headed straight to the centre of town before the Market closed down. After this we headed over to the Menin Gate, the commemorative arch to Commonwealth soldiers without graves during the First World War.

Menin Gate

Menin Gate

Whilst there, and going up the stairs to the elevated gardens we found Tony Robinson from Time Team doing filming for a TV show! So we stayed around for a while to watch him fluff his lines before heading back down for a photo shot of us by the arch, before heading back round the City Moat, and back into the centre for Waffles and finally to visit a Commonwealth cemetery, which was immaculate.

Commonwealth Cemetery

Commonwealth Cemetery

Leaving Ypres, we headed to the south to a restored trench system known as "Bayernwald". After racing to the local village to get tickets before closing we entered the site, and had a wander inside them to get a feel for how soldiers had to spend their time, including seeing some of the dugouts where soldiers would have slept.

Bayernwald

Bayernwald

After the morning of history in Belgium, we headed back into France, towards Dunkirk for a bit of beach relaxation. Whilst the weather wasn't the sunniest, it was still a warm day and the beach in Dunkirk was lovely and sandy.

Beach Relaxation

Beach Relaxation

After a few games we hired a quadracycle and caused carnage along the promenade, screaming, shouting, driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, and getting clothing caught in the thing!

Reconstructed image of the bike

Reconstructed image of the bike

The last thing before heading home was a 'lovely' French meal, where we were reacquainted with the stinky cheese of 6 months ago. All I can say is that the food wasn't great.....

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Belgium Tagged beach history friends war Comments (0)

'Cos this is Africa!

Strait of Gibraltar - Tangier

sunny 21 °C
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Kasbah

Kasbah

Whilst Tangier wasn't the most interesting city in Morocco, it did still have a souq, and a lot of Arabic features, as well as the novelty of being Africa, - therefore ticking off my 5th continent of the 7, as well as adding a little more action to my holiday.

Medina

Medina


Old City Gate

Old City Gate

Arriving at the ferry port terminal in Tangier, I spent 5 or so hours looking around the Medina of the city before making my way over to the more modern part of the city and the beach side area. After buying a souvenir, I then took the return ferry back over to Spain, and made my way over to Gibraltar (though actually staying over the border in Spain, where it was so much cheaper) for the final full day of the holiday.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged history gibraltar souq Comments (0)

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