Thursday, April 17, 2014

Biblical sites in Israel

Most of the people who visit Israel don't come there because of the complex political situation they would like to understand or because of the amazing places they would like to visit. They come for religious reason and there's nothing wrong with that. Israel, and especially Jerusalem is the center of three biggest world's religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. On every step you stumble upon a church / corner / landmark that is of extremely big value to numerous pilgrims visiting the place. And this just cannot leave you impassive.

view of old town and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem
view of Old Town and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

local life in Berlin - renting a flat

Some of you might know that back in 2007 I was lucky enough to spend a month living in Berlin. I got an internship there, found a nice room in Moabit and for these 30 days I pretended to be a Berliner. And I had the time of my life! Being able to live in this wonderful city, even if for such a short period, was amazing! Random things like grocery shopping next doors, wandering aimlessly around in the afternoons or having favorite spot for a morning coffee, using the same u-bahn line each day made it so unforgettable. I enjoyed every single moment spent there and even after all these years I still miss it like crazy.

ubahn station in Berlin

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday with Pictures: street art in Athens, Greece

The majority of people visiting Athens are interested in seeing the remnants of the ancient greatness. I totally understand that, even if the ruins there aren't as magnificent as everyone expects. I wanted to see these as well, of course, but prior visiting Greek capital my biggest excitement was about the street art scene. I heard so many good things about it and I just couldn't wait to discover it properly.

I expected to see some good pieces every here and there, like it usually is in most of the places. But to my great surprise graffiti and murals cover the big part of Athens. It was literally everywhere, even in the oldest, most touristy area, next to the ancient ruins, so overlooked by crowds. I was overwhelmed by the great finds on every step! After walking around for a while I could already distinguish which pieces were created by the same artist. The most I liked the series of paintings of girl with a wavy hair - I spotted them all over the city and they were the prettiest!

The biggest number of street art can be found in Exarchia - the alternative neighborhood of Athens, famous for the riots that often take place there. In this part of the city literally every building, every wall, every door was covered in some kind of graffiti. Some were better, most were not that good. Sometimes the awesome pieces were covered by random writing. But the overall impression was overwhelming, I felt like I found myself in the street art paradise. I was wandering around slowly, carefully looking at each corner not to miss anything. 

I've been to many cities where the street art scene was amazing - Montreal, Toronto, Barcelona, Tartu or recently Amman - but Athens was the most surprising one. I felt like it was a smaller yet equally awesome version of Berlin and I enjoyed every single moment exploring it, especially when my wanders around were full of wonderful street art finds. Below you can see some of the best examples

Athens street art

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

how Cape Town stole my heart

It was love at first sight. Funily enough, just few days before I was thinking how hard it is for the new place to enchant me. There were so many great cities I was lucky to visit that now I'm more careful with naming the destination "one of the best I've ever been to". But Cape Town stole my heart from the very first moment that I arrived. And in next 5 days I was falling in love more and more with it. It's actually hard to name one reason why I went so crazy about Cape Town. It's more a compilation of places, vibe, views, scents that alltogether made me love the city so very much.

beach in Muizenberg

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday with Pictures: ruins in Jerash, Jordan

When I planned my time in Jordan I just knew I have to find half a day to visit impressive ruins in Jerash. This city, located only 50 kms from Amman is a perfect getaway to escape the busy, chaotic life of the capital. The local bus drops you right in front of the entrance to the area that used to be known as the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. I've seen some spectacular ruins in my life: Pompei, Kourion or Caesarea to name few. But what I've seen in Jerash was simply the best, an outstanding example of the old greatness!

The city was established in the 3rd century BC but its best times came two centuries later as a result of the location on the main trading routes (incense and spice trade from the Arabian Peninsula to Syria). Jerash was also a favorite city of the Roman emperor Hadrian and was growing and flourishing both economically and socially until 3rd century. Eventually the city was under the Byzantine and Muslim rule and the year 1112 marks the end of ancient Gerasa.

Once you go through the market place selling nothing but souvenirs and get your ticket (8JD for foreign tourists) you're free to wander around the old ruins. The area is enormous and it took me over 2 hours to see everything! All the remnants of the old times are really impressive - there are arches, temples, theaters, agora or hippodrome. But the biggest attraction of Jerash is Forum - the Oval Plaza surrounded by numerous columns - and the Cardo - a 600 meters long main street of the city that used to be a commercial center. During my visit there were barely any people around and so I could peacefully wander around, look inside every corner and imagine how interesting the life had to be back then. All the ancient architecture details that I learnt about in school I could finally admire in real life as they were present in the ruins surrounding me on every step. It was a truly unforgettable experience and definitely the best ancient ruins I've ever seen! And the thought that 90% of the city is still unexcavated is just mind blowing!

Here's a little tour of old Jerash. Isn't it just amazing?

Jerash - the Cardo
The Cardo - main street in old Jerash

Friday, April 4, 2014

Amman - (not) the ugliest city in the world

Just before my Middle East trip at the beginning of the year I stumbled upon an article naming top 10 ugliest cities in the world. To my great surprise Amman, the capital city of Jordan and the place I was looking forward to visiting really badly, made it to the 3rd position (only Guatemala City and Mexico City were higher on the list). Amman was described as dirty, chaotic and, well, ugly. And I really get it why people might not like it as it's not your typical picture perfect tourist destinations. But these features (and few more) were the reasons why I loved Amman from the very beginning!

Amman houses

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday with Pictures: Wrocław, Poland

I've been to Wrocław few times before but always it was just a quick stop on the way somewhere else - to a youth camp abroad, to nordic combined competitions in Czech Republic or to catch a flight to Italy. During every visit I promised myself I will return there for longer than just few hours to see the city properly. But always there were other places that I just happened to visit and Wrocław was postponed to a later date. Eventually this winter the opportunity arose and I was able to spend the whole weekend in this extremely beautiful city.

Wrocław is the 4th biggest city in Poland, located in south-west part of the country, fairly close to the German and Czech borders. It was established in 10th century and over the years it was part of Kingdom of Poland, Bohemia, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, Germany and (after the II World War) Poland again. Due to location at the crossroads of important trading routes - Via Regia and Amber Road - Wrocław always played an important part in the history, also a tragic one. At the end of the War the city was under the siege and half of the city was destroyed (as it was in many Polish cities in that period).

My weekend in Wrocław happened in the coldest days of the year, with temperatures -15C. Still it didn't stop me from walking around and admiring the beauty of the place. The Old Town is extremely picturesque with colorful houses presenting various architecture styles. The bridge leading to the Cathedral Island is full of love lockers - a while ago a big part of them had to be removed as the bridge could have collapsed because of their weight. But the biggest attraction of Wrocław are small dwarfs. There are over 200 of them, located all over the city and looking for them around is just so much fun. Dwarfs are already a good reason to come to Wrocław but just see what else the city had to offer.

Wrocław town hall

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

sunrise hike to Masada

The alarm clock brutally cut through my sleep. I needed few moments to realize where I am and what's happening. The night was at its best, it was barely 3.30 a.m. and I was fighting so much with myself not to come back to bed. But as it turned out all the effort was worth it as there was an exciting day ahead of me, the day when I hiked the Masada fortress at the dawn and the day when I checked if it's true people can't drown in the Dead Sea.

Masada sunrise

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday with Pictures: scenes from the West Bank

The name "West Bank" usually brings all sort of negative emotions to people: fear, confusion, questioning. And I get it as that's what media do to us, showing only unfortunate events, taking sides etc. I might as well admit that my way of thinking was similar, confusion being the commanding one. I was a little bit reluctant when the opportunity of visiting West Bank appeared but the curiosity in me went for it. And, of course, I loved every minute I spent exploring West Bank and learning about the life there.

There're so many issues with West Bank and Israeli - Palestine conflict that you can easily write a long book about it (I've just finished reading one). But I'm not gonna talk politics here, mainly because my knowledge of this is way too little to give any opinions. I tried to understand it when visiting West Bank but it was just overwhelming and confusing. Besides I was more interested in learning about the everyday life of people there, how difficult it is and how local people feel about the situation they happened to be in. 

I visited only very small part of West Bank, cities of Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem (and Hebron but that deserved a separate post that can be found here) but they gave me an impression of how the situation there is. All of the places were busy, bustling cities with numerous local businesses, street sellers, packed with people and cars. The vibe, the scenes I observed, the street life reminded me much of Amman, Jordan. West Bank towns were just your typical Arab cities that you can find in the countries around. Even if I had come there with no expectations I was still surprised how these places really were. They might not be beautiful per se but definitely had a soul that I fall for. And now I wish I could have spent more time discovering West Bank.

All my conversations with local people lead to one conclusion - they were happy with their lives but just wanted to have a peaceful, stress-free everyday reality, without insane rules to follow, without permissions to travel around, without numerous check points. They weren't radicals saying that having two separate countries, Israel and Palestine, is the only solution. They were well aware of the difficult position they are in, both politically and geographically (big part of West Bank lies on the harsh desert) and believed that it's possible to work out the solution to their hopeless case, as soon as smart people on both sides are ready to talk. Their words were full of sorrow, but not hate. Most of well, they were just hoping for the better future.

Friday, March 14, 2014

is South Africa safe?

"Are you crazy? You're gonna get raped,  robbed and killed!" That was the very first reaction when I told people I'm going to South Africa, and that I'm going on my own (later on a friend of mine joined me for that trip, still we kept hearing the same question). It's undeniable that the country has a bad reputation coming from the apartheid times when the everyday life was often disturbed by riots and acts of terror and when the sense of discrimination lead people to vandalism attacks. But apartheid ended over 20 years ago and everyone is still wondering if South Africa is a safe place to travel around.

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