Michael in Old Jerusalem

Flying to Israel requires extra security measures. Before we could board our flight out of Zurich we had to go through an interview process with Israeli officials. The person was very friendly and we had no issues entering the country. After arriving we took a taxi with an exceptionally aggressive driver from the airport to Jerusalem which is a little less than an hour away.

On our first evening we walked from the hotel down to the Mamila shopping area and right through to the Old City through Jaffa gate. We had a quick look at the chaos of the market stalls lining the narrow streets before heading back outside for dinner. We ate at Kedma with a view overlooking the city walls. I had roast goose while Leanne had beef bourguignon. As we sat there we could here some chanting and a group of young military members marched along the outside of the wall. There is mandatory service in this country when people turn 18, and military presence is everywhere. What we found disconcerting was the carelessness with how some of them manage their guns. For example as the group was marching down the outside of the wall, one of the people in the front was lifting his gun in the air and dropped his ammo clip on the ground. Elsewhere we had seen young men and women swinging their weapon around carelessly.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The following morning we went straight into the Old City. We attempted to negotiate the maze of streets on our own and made our way through numerous corridors and eventually to the Western Wall. I had to don a borrowed yamaka to approach it. It is separated for the men in the large area on the left and for the women in a smaller area on the right. During our wanderings we realized that it would be difficult to get the most out of seeing Old Jerusalem without some help. We joined a walking tour that led us through the four quarters (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Armenian) and provided great explanations of the believed, historical significance of everything we saw. The tour was also worthwhile in that it brought us to rooftops, and to nooks that we would not have found on our own. It was a long hot day for us and we felt we had accomplished a lot within this world wonder. In the evening we went to the new town and dined in a fantastic restaurant called Dolphin Sea. This was on a Friday night and as the evening approached the city cleared out, most businesses closed and public transportation stopped. Shabbat is from Friday evening until Saturday evening. Vehicles are blockaded from entering residential areas occupied by ultra-orthodox Jews. There is an interpretation of the rule, though shall not start a fire during the Shabbat, which leads some to believe they cannot use any electrical switches. So at our hotel the elevator was set to Shabbat mode, where the buttons were no longer in use and the elevator automatically stops on every floor continuously during the 24 hour period.

Tel Aviv Beaches

On the Saturday we arranged for a driver and went to the Mount of Olives. It has an incredible view looking over the old city and holds numerous spots of religious significance. It was packed with tourists not observing the Shabbat. We then went to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea scrolls and the huge array of artefacts discovered throughout the region. Our driver offered to take us to visit nearby Bethlehem on the West Bank, but doing so required going into the Palestinian Territory that has been literally walled off by the Israeli government. While many people make this journey, we have our own rule that if the Canadian Government advises people not to travel to a region we are not going to ignore the advice. Bethlehem fell within the travel advisory so we did not go, opting to head to Tel Aviv that afternoon.

Leanne in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is a stark contrast to Jerusalem. Much of it is modern and it is a beach city. We wandered down the promenade to the Tel Aviv Port and had a late lunch overlooking the sea. That evening we walked through the bustling streets and all the shops and outdoor cafes. The next day we walked across the entire city to the area of Old Jaffa. It was a beautiful walk along the coast, but hot and humid. The area around Old Jaffa has been restored and filled with art galleries. We walked up and down the steps between the old port and the top of the hill. We then wandered through the old area, past the flea-market. At this point we were very uncomfortable in the hot afternoon sun. We had some ice-cream and took a taxi back to near our hotel, where we went for lunch at a recommended local hummus place. We ate with locals and loved our meal. In the late afternoon we relaxed on the rooftop of the hotel. We enjoyed the sea breeze and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. Returning back to the streets we found a fantastic restaurant and enjoyed our last night in Israel. We had to leave for the airport at 3:30AM for our 7AM flight. Security at the airport is substantial and it took a while to get through, but we had no problems. We took a very short flight to Cyprus, which is where we are now.


Romantische Straße

Leanne and Neuschwanstein from our hike

“Hallo.” “Hello,” we replied as we handed over our passports. Without ever looking at them the customs agent opened them blindly somewhere in the middle, and stamped them followed by a quick, “Bye, Bye.” The stamp on mine was on top of others and pressed so lightly it was barely distinguishable. Leanne and I looked at each other in amazement as we cleared customs. I don’t think he even knew our nationality. We had now entered Germany after our flight to Frankfurt from Vancouver.

We had started the first part of our trip. The plan was to rent a car and drive portions of the famed Romantic Road followed by a visit to the tiny country Lichtenstein before ending in Zurich where we fly-out for our next adventure. We were offered two options for the rental car (same rate) a VW Passat or a BMW Wagon. We went with the BMW which had a front to back sun roof and built in GPS. It seemed fancy at the time until we were on the road and remembered that Germany has phenomenal domestics. The majority of vehicles (including the taxis) on the road were by Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche.

Our first night we stayed in a beautiful hotel just outside the centre of Frankfurt. We wandered along the river and into the city the first evening and again the following morning after having been up since 2AM with insomnia from our jet lag. This is unfortunately common for us when we go through with a 9-hour time change. We left midday and drove to Würzburg, the official start of the Romantic Road. We wandered through the city and had lunch there before making our way towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

I must admit, I love driving in Europe. Germany in particular has exceptional modern highways, the autobahns, with sections without speed limits. It is something else to be driving somewhere well beyond 150kph and to see a vehicle approaching in the review mirror only to fly by seconds later at some incredible speed. I also love having GPS. It is perfect for exploring and we took a few Ausfahrts off the main road to wander into villages while never worrying about getting lost. One of the great discoveries was Weikersheim. It was a tiny medieval city with a small river beside it.

Michael in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

We eventually arrived at Rothenburg and drove the tiny cobbled roads into the heart of the old town to our hotel. They quickly unloaded us and drove the car to their garage. We wandered the old city walls, admired the castle gardens and had a great dinner that evening. The following morning we explored some more and went to the criminology museum with all of its ancient history of torture devices once a part of the towns past. This is a popular tourist destination for good reason and well worth the effort to visit it.

Our next stop was Dinkelsbühl. We parked outside the city walls and wandered through the old part of town. Rain came in and we ducked into a restaurant for lunch. We sat amongst locals and had yummy, filling dishes with fresh chanterelle mushrooms. We left and drove to Nördlingen on the recommendation of a local. While it had been sporadic since mid day, the rain returned as we arrived. We drove through what we could and then hit the road to head directly to Füssen, the village beside Germany’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein. We had an early night and an early morning. It was a beautiful day and we made it to the castles ahead of the crowds. We went up to the common viewpoint on Mary’s Bridge, but carried on and hiked for a half-hour up and above it for some spectacular views. The trails were easy to follow, but we were completely alone on them. The hike was rewarding and it was a real highlight for us.

We left Füssen and drove through the Alps to the mountain resort town Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We wandered the streets and ate at an outdoor café before carrying on to Innsbruck. The drive through the mountain passes provided the scenery and winding roads that I was hoping for. We explored Innsbruck that evening and had al fresco dinning in the old town. The next day we drove to nearby the nearby Swarovski Crystal Worlds simply so I could take a photo of the manmade fountain outside. We left there and went straight to Lichtenstein. We drove through over 30km of tunnels on the way. The transit infrastructure here is very impressive. Crossing the border into Lichtenstein was uneventful. The border guard looked at the German license plate of our rental, glanced at us and waved us through. We had lunch in town and carried on to Zurich.

This was our second visit to Zurich and as we drove through town we reminisced about our time here six years ago during the Street Parade. We went to the incredibly impressive Dolder Grand Hotel to check-in. As we arrived they let us know that the hotel was very full and our booked room was unavailable, so they moved us up more than three classes to a grand suite on the top floor with views over the golf course, the lake and the city. We enjoyed the hotel so much we didn’t return to the city. It had one of the best spa areas we’ve ever used. We loved the pool and the hot-tub. I will post some photos of it that I took with our waterproof camera. They will be located here with the others.

We left the next morning to the airport where we dropped off the rental car with almost 1000 new kilometres on it.

2011 Stanley Cup Run

The Vancouver Canucks were one win short of getting their first every Stanley Cup. I attended every home game in Vancouver since their last one of the season. It was an incredible run full of great moments I will long cherish. I will never forget defeating the Blackhawks (last year’s Stanley Cup winner) in overtime of  game 7 at home.  Crushing the San Jose Sharks 7-3 in game 2 of round 3 and of course winning the Western Conference Championship with a tying goal in the final seconds of the game followed by an overtime win. When Vancouver won its third game against Boston I, and the city, celebrated more than I ever have for any sporting event. Sadly game 7 ended in tragedy. I watched the Bruins hoisting the cup from ice level and when I finally walked away I could see the Vancouver riots on the TVs in the plaza. I escaped through the Canucks store onto Pacific to get home away from the crowds. That night we watched in horror from our balcony as riot police marched down our street, set off stun grenades and launched tear gas at neighboring rooftops while groups of thugs vandalized cars and windows.

The city was anew the next morning and recovered incredibly with everyone pitching in to clean up.  My vacation had started, well planned for the end of the playoff run.  I had a professional shave first thing of the morning getting rid of my shaggy beard that I had grown for two months since the playoffs had started. It was a great run and while the battered Canucks came up a game short I was thrilled with what they accomplished and will never forget it.

I have posted videos here and here to remember the good times.