Next trip: Israel and Jordan

From 8 to 22 March 2015, I will be in Israel and Jordan.

“… I will be in Israel again,” I should say because this will be about my fifteenth or twentieth time to visit Israel. But six years have passed since my last trip.

Why go to the same country so often? Because Israel is not only beautiful, but above all interesting, versatile and multi-faceted, because I learn something new each time. And because discussions about war and peace, about the future and identity of a nation are more interesting than those about the debt ceiling or a Royal baby.

Only one event is fixed on this journey: on 13 March 2015 I will run the half-marathon in Jerusalem. Not an easy feat in this hilly city, but hopefully a very special experience.

Jerusalem dome of the rocks

Apart from that, I don’t have any fixed plans yet. That’s the beautiful thing about returning to a country where I have been so often and seen so much already. I am under no pressure to check places and destinations on a list. Instead, I can allow myself to take the time to meet old friends, to get to know new people, to go hiking, to observe and to write.

I hope to spend a few days in Jordan as well. There, I have only been once so far, and then only for one day. Back then I got lost in the desert before I did finally find the ancient city of Petra.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Let’s see where exactly I will drift this time. In any case, I am looking forward to the Middle East and to views like these on balmy evenings in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem city walls

For those of you in Israel or Jordan: Here is my Couchsurfing profile with plenty of reviews, so that you can be sure that I am a friendly and uncomplicated guest.

(Diese Ankündigung gibt es auch auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Israel, Jordan, Travel | Tagged | 6 Comments

In the Jungle

BambusOk, not quite in the jungle, but at the impressive Botanical Garden of Palermo in Sicily.

Posted in Italy, Photography, Sicily, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

It began with dense fog. (Part 2)

(Click here to read part 1.)

The name of the picnic area – Musolino – reminded me too much of Italy’s erstwhile dictator, but we had just left the zone of the fog, and after the disappointment at the peak of Mount Dinnammare we were happy for any opportunity to stretch our legs and go for a walk in the forest.

We left the car behind and took the first path that we saw. No destination. Dense forest, birds, a cloudy day, not exactly warm, trees that had fallen over, a little wilderness, and all of this only a few minutes away from Messina. Good that the mountain is so steep, otherwise it would be completely built over already.

But then I spot something through the bushes. What is this, in the middle of the thicket?

house in jungle

A house, but a deserted one. I can’t detect any path that would lead to the house, so it must have been left a few years ago already. Windows and doors are open. I am filled with curiosity, but I don’t even try to convince my mother and my sister that a closer inspection of this mysterious home is a good idea.

Fortunately, as it shall turn out soon.

Because after another 15-minute march we find more relics of a bygone civilization. These are not only more accessible, they are directly next to the path, but they are also considerably more interesting than a simple residential building.

chapel1

A chapel. Nothing much left of the interior decoration. Only a simple wooden cross and two frames which once adorned valuable icons. In symmetry they stand behind the altar, like a signal to posterity.

chapel2We are getting curios. What used to be here? Why isn’t it anymore? What else are we going to find? There are no signs, no plaques, no hints, nothing. It’s not marked on the map.

Then, this appears.

burg1Now I don’t have to convince anyone. We are all on fire. We have to go over there! We find a very large, not too old building, ornamented with merlons and classical arches. With its terraces, its large windows and the pond, it appears to me like it used to be a restaurant.

But now everything is empty, destroyed, left behind.

burg2

burg3burg4When windows and doors stand open like this, one is almost compelled to accept the invitation thus expressed. To be on the safe side, we listen attentively for a while. Nothing. No voices, no other sounds, no chainsaws.

We step inside. Carefully, we move through the long corridors and along the crumbly stairs into the higher levels, floor by floor.

burg inside 1burg inside 2burg inside 3

Except for a few graffiti, which were obviously added later, we find no written or other indicators of the former use or the year of construction, let alone the story of this village, which mainly consisted of a chapel and this pompous building.

burg inside 4The internet allows me to have hope that someone from Messina will come forward who is able to shed light on the story behind these ruins. – UPDATE: My Sicilian landlord, who showed me Mount Dinnammare in the first place, was really quick in answering my question. Please see Alessio’s detailed comment below.

(Zur deutschen Version.)

Posted in Italy, Photography, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Two Valentine’s Days in Romania

Orthodox Christianity is perfect for people who are always late with getting presents. Because everything happens later, you have some extra time. Christmas is on 7 January, Easter is later as well (but with a different time lag each year). If you like to party and to get drunk, you may also use this schism to celebrate twice. I personally don’t benefit from this at all because I am an Atheist both in the West and the East.

In Romania I learned that this time difference also applies to Valentine’s Day. It is not celebrated on 14, but on 24 February. It’s not called Valentine’s Day either, but Dragobete. In Romanian mythology, he was the son of Baba Dochia, the main character in a spring saga.

dragobete_flowersWhen I ask around how Dragobete is celebrated, everyone tells me a different story. According to some, I am supposed to collect snow on this day, melt it and keep the water for healing purposes. But the snow is long gone. (Global warming). Instead, it is apparently also acceptable to pick flowers and to weave them into one’s hair or to present them to a loved one. Allegedly, it also has something to do with the beginning of spring. I personally find it sad to celebrate the beginning of spring by killing off the first flowers who have just barely managed to pierce through the hard and cold soil.

martisor-sellersToday, on 1 March, it becomes even more confusing. Because now the beginning of spring and Valentine’s Day are celebrated again, but this time it’s called Mărțișor, meaning “little March”. Suddenly the parks, the bus stops and the church grounds are full with hundreds of vendors offering hundreds of thousands of talismans with a red-white string. By my own estimate, in Târgu-Mureș (population of around 140,000) at least 300,000 Mărțișor talismans were offered for sale.

These numbers lead me to conclude, first, that it will be obligatory to wear this talisman on one’s lapel in the coming weeks, and second, that they are being stockpiled to serve as reserve currency in the case of a currency reform.

The likable and progressive thing about this second Valentine’s Day is that this time, women give presents to men.

Until the next holiday!

Martisor rope(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

Posted in Religion, Romania, Travel | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Sad Things (14) Multilingual Pizza

Today, when I wanted to prepare a pizza, I felt really stupid. I tried to read the instructions, but I couldn’t read them in any of the fifteen languages provided. Fifteen languages! And I don’t speak any of them. What an embarrassment.

pizza

I tried to decipher the symbols in the bottom right corner, but these seemed to suggest that I should throw the pizza in the rubbish bin. I am not yet willing to give up, so if anyone speaks

  • Polish,
  • Hungarian,
  • Czech,
  • Slovak,
  • Croatian,
  • Bosnian,
  • Slovenian,
  • Serbian,
  • Montenegrinan,
  • Romanian,
  • Lithuanian,
  • Latvian,
  • Estonian,
  • Bulgarian or
  • Ukrainian,

you are welcome to come over and show me how this pizza works.

Posted in Food, Language | Tagged | 6 Comments

It began with dense fog. (Part 1)

Mount Dinnammare sits 1,130 meters (3,700 feet) above the port city of Messina and offers splendid views across the strait of Scylla and Charybdis, to Calabria, across the mountains of Sicily and on both the Ionian and the Tyrrhenian Sea. After having just arrived by ferry from the Italian mainland, you can drive up the winding road for about half an hour, crossing several different zones of vegetation on the way, in order to gain a first impression of the diversity of the Mediterranean’s largest island.

These are the views that you enjoy from here:

Meerenge

Blick von Dinnammare

Dinnammare Bäume

Etna from DinnamareWhen I first went up to Dinnammare, I saw cyclists who had just completed the mountainous ascent. They didn’t even look too exhausted.

There is a small pilgrimage church at the summit.

Dinnamare church-001

When my mother and sister visited me in Sicily, I obviously wanted to take them to this fantastic place. Because both of them had no trust in my driving skills, it was my sister who sped up the serpentine road in our Fiat. It was early in the morning, the hilltops were still engulfed in fog, but we thought that it was going to clear up. Instead, the fog became denser, grayer, wetter, colder and darker.

On that day in March, the pilgrimage church looked like this:

Dinnammare fog

Naturally, that was a huge disappointment. The intended hike did not only fall through, it was swallowed up by the fog. We stuck around for another 15 chilly and damp minutes, hoping that the fog would clear. But it didn’t.

Thus, we turned around and went down the mountain at a crawl for lack of visibility. Below the zone of the fog, we stopped to make up for our cancelled hike at a different, unknown location.

In the middle of the forest we discovered something which we had never hoped to discover, not least because we hadn’t even known of its existence. Disappointment turned into a surprise.

(Continue with part 2.Hier geht es zur deutschen Fassung dieses Texts.)

Posted in Italy, Photography, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Top 10 Ethical Travel Destinations? I doubt that.

I don’t know why people need lists with suggestions for travel destinations. Do people really sit at home without any idea and wait for “the top 10 travel destinations in 2015″, “the most underrated travel destinations this year” and “the best 10 beaches in 2015″? I doubt that. If you have ever looked at a map and seen photos from other countries, you have some kind of idea where you want to go and what is reachable, both geographically and financially.

These lists range somewhere between unnecessary, boring and annoying.

My curiosity was however raised when I read about “the world’s ten best ethical destinations for 2015″. As you know from my travel writing, I am not one of those shallow sunset-and-beach travelers, but I am quite curious about the political, social, economic and environmental situation of the countries I visit and live in.

When I saw the list, I was surprised:

  • Cabo Verde
  • Chile
  • Dominica
  • Lithuania
  • Mauritius
  • Palau
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Uruguay
  • Vanuatu

Seven of these are islands, to which most people would fly, thus causing a lot of CO2 to be blown into the atmosphere. That already made me wonder about the methodology behind this list. Did they not consider the environment? But they do. Going through the reasoning behind the list, the creators mention some numbers, mostly goals for renewable energy, or an organic farm here or there.

Maybe you can swim there?

Maybe you can swim there?

But what’s the point of an island far away in the Pacific trying to work with renewable energy when travelers are encouraged to visit it by a fuel-burning plane?

This is a general criticism against such a list because whether a trip to anywhere will be ethical by environmental standards obviously depends on the place from which one sets off. I am in Europe at the moment, so it will be quite environmentally friendly to take the train to Budapest. That doesn’t make Budapest an ethical travel destination if everyone else flies in from Australia or South America.

Having said that, picking islands which are very far away from most people still seems to be the most stupid of all available choices. Curiously enough, the study even says: “Climate change affects islands dramatically, so they tend to be very aware of the importance of effective environmental policies.” Yeah, but the makers of the study are apparently not aware of simple geography or of how planes work.

The follow-up sentence “Chile and Uruguay are the only two mainland winners” suggests a problem with geography, because where is Lithuania? It’s not an island, that much I can tell you.

The inconsistencies continue: “Latvia became the second Baltic state to achieve status as a ‘developed country’ and therefore is no longer eligible for our list. In 2014 Latvia changed its national currency to the Euro.” Well, I’ve got news for you: Lithuania has the Euro as well. Was it not a problem in this case because you don’t regard it as a “developed country”? Having lived in Lithuania for a year I can assure you that it is quite developed.

Still, Lithuania maybe shouldn’t be on a list of “ethical travel destinations” because of its reluctance to accept gay travelers. Some of the countries on the list, Dominica, Mauritius, Samoa and Tonga, still have criminal laws penalizing same-sex relations. How is this ethical? The producers of the study respond: “because these laws are very rarely (if ever) enforced, the countries were not disqualified” How comforting for those rare cases in which they are enforced and for all others who have to live in constant fear of being harassed, arrested, beaten up or prosecuted.

This list is a complete load of bullshit!

Posted in Environment, Human Rights, Lithuania, Philosophy, Politics, Statistics, Travel | Tagged | 8 Comments