Saturday, January 9, 2016

Eat, pray, love

Our time in Bali definitely wasn't enough and I wish he had 1 week in Bali. We stayed in an area called Semniak for 2 nights and then moved to Ubud for the last 2 nights. It's weird how everyone's experience in a country is so varied even amongst friends with similar interests. We had 2 different friends that didn't care for Bali but Adam and I really enjoyed our time there and would definitely like to come back one day. Bali was inexpensive with good food options. The white sand beach in Boracay was nicer but the beach in Bali was also nice which lots of activities.

Although Bali is part of Indonesia which is primarily a Muslim country, the people of Bali are 90-95% Hindu. Being Hindu, there are 1000 of temples and you see remnants of offerings everywhere on the island. The Balinese are in general very nice people. If your only encounters were with taxi drivers or people in Kuta and Semniak, then your experience would be very different. We found the local people to be very kind and humble and the service was very good as well especially in comparison to our experience in Boracay, Philipenes.

In Semniak we stayed at a pool villa called Aleva Villas which was a super cute place with only 8 villas. It was a very new place - only 4 weeks old so everything was new and nice. My favourite part was that we could access our private pool from our eating area, our bedroom and from our bathroom. Felt very luxurious and the weather was wonderful during our time there. Every morning we were served breakfast in the our villa. 

Everywhere you went in Bali you encountered Aussies. Bali is basically their Hawaii/Mexico with direct flights from most major cities in Australia in about 6 hours. A bunch of the hotels and restaurants are Aussie owned and a street in Semniak almost felt like you were in Australia with upmarket boutiques including locals and popular Aussie brands and restaurants.

We hired a driver from our hotel to take us for 6 hours or so to a few sites and then drop us off at our hotel in Ubud. Ubud is known for the lush forests and rice patty fields. It is closer to the volcanos where some people go hiking or sunrise trekking. The Monkey forest is also a popular destination which was walking distance from our hotel but we didn't have enough time and we wanted to do a bit of shopping for our future home even though our shopping time was also very limited. This time Aleena and the Tran girls would have been proud of our bargaining 😄

In Ubud, we stayed at Alaya Resort Ubud which was a convenient place to stay in town but in hindsight we probably would have preferred to have stayed at another pool villa hotel instead or an isolated hotel in the forest especially since the town isn't very happening in the evenings u like Semniak. Alaya had a very nice spa called DeLa spa with nice decor and services. A friend had recommended  Alila Resort just outside Ubud in case anyone is interested for the future. Ubud used to be a lot more quite but became much more popular after the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love. Not sure what the price point is but Samaya Villas looked uber luxurious as well!

Bali has so much diversity on just one island. We didn't even see Nusa Dua, Kuta or Jimbaran Bay. It seems like the distances are close but there is a lot of traffic, varied topography and most of the roads are very narrow and not many "highways" so it takes a long time to get around. 

One of our favourites was watching the sunset at Potato Head Beach Club which is an upscale beach club but suitable for all age levels. There were people who came here all day to lounge on day beds, beach and the infinity pool but without the Cabana price tag like in Vegas and far nicer scenery while other people just came here to have lunch, dinner or just drinks to watch the sunset. In peak season there is a minimum spend of $100 for a daybed but more reasonable than a similar place in any other country. 

Another one of our favourite activities  was a cooking class with Paon Cooking school which had pick up and drop off from hotels in Ubud. Half of the fun was chatting with other fellow travellers and we even met another couple from Calgary. The meal we made as a group was one of the best we had in our time in Bali.

Bali also had the best mocktails for us non-drinkers especially with so many fresh fruit options. We will miss all of the passion fruit, mangosteen, star fruit, mango, lychee concoctions. The best drinks were at Potato Head and Char Char Bar and Grill.

Massages and spa services were also fantastic and very cheap! We got a couple of foot massages, manicures and a Balinese full body massage which were all wonderful! We went to Beatriz spa and Spa Yasmin - Beatriz spa was just convenient for a foot massage after dinner when a nicer looking place was full and Yasmin spa was slighter nicer ambiance than Beatriz but the quality of the service was better at Beatrix. A 30 min foot massage was $5-6, manicure $5-8 ($16 with shellac). At a cheap price, quality is definitely hit or miss if you're very picky. Shampoo lounge was also recommended to us for a more upscale place for hair and spa services. Spa services were even cheaper in Ubud from what we could tell although we already had a Balinese massage included with our hotel package. 

We were recommended to take Bluebird taxis by friends since it's the only metered Taxi so saves the hassle of haggling a taxi fare each time you want to go somewhere. There is a Bluebird "station" at Semniak square which we didn't know about until the last day. There's no bluebird in U us though but locals were very nicer hear. 

As this post is getting quite long, I'll dedicate a separate post to Bali food!

Friday, January 1, 2016

New York on Steriods

It was a much different experience to revisit Hong Kong after 10 years! The first time we came Adam and I were backpacking and I can remember having a cockroach run across the floor of our hostel room. This time we stayed in a proper hotel and had significantly better food than we did the last time. Not sure if it's because of our shitty dollar or just in general but Hong Kong is very expensive compared to what we remembered. 

We stayed at Courtyard Marriott on Hong Kong island. The location was just ok - not walking distance to much but close enough to an MTR station (subway) and there was a shuttle that left very often for Hong Kong station which is where a lot of the train lines connect from. We used the shuttle 3 times in 2 days. 

As we have been to Hong Kong before, we didn't go back to Victoria peak or take the star ferry across from Hong Kong island to Kowloon which was nice to do last time but not warm enough to enjoy it this time. Was only high of 18 degrees but you definitively need a sweater. We did go to the Big Buddha which is an impressive thing to see although it's a whole day process.  We originally had an 8 hour stopover on our outbound flight but we changed our flight while we were in Hong Kong so we had to cram it in and couldn't buy tickets 24 hours in advance which I'd highly recommend as there are painfully long lines for a cable car ticket but at least they had wifi. The big Buddha is stationed on Lantau island and you can take a bus up to the site or the famous cable car which is what the long wait is for. There is an option to take a crystal car which means there is a glass floor or a regular car. We were in a rush so we opted for a regular car as there are more of them. It wasn't a very clear day but a neat ride. We took the A23 bus back down to the Tung Chung MTR station instead of a 2 way cable car ride. Ideally, if it works, it could be faster to take the bus up and cable car down but we didn't inquire if the tickets worked that way. If you took your time, the whole process of taking the MTR, cable car, roaming around Ngong Ping Village 360 and roaming the mall called City Gate outlets at the cable car terminal station could be 6 hours. As its very close to the airport, if you travel light enough, they have luggage storage so you could take your bags with you and go straight to the airport (save a lot of MTR time). 

The day you go to the big Buddha, definitely buy an MTR day pass as its the best value  and convenient if you're going to take even one more trip that day. Day pass $55HKD per person

My favourite areas to explore and where we ate the most was Soho and the Lan Kwai Fong as they were more local and less touristy than Mong Kong or Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui area. There is a light show at 7 pm everyday on the Tsim Sha Tsui but we didn't do it again this time. 2 days this time was quick but we got to see everything we wanted to  but didn't get to all of the eating we planned to! To get to some of the restaurants, there is an outdoor escalator called Mid level escalators that take takes you up hill so you don't have to walk as many stairs.  It's considered a sight to see in Hong Kong and was very useful to get around. 

The Ladies Market and Temple Street Market are also popular markets but our hotel told us to just go to one of them and we are glad they did because it's your typical Asian Night Market with souvenirs and random fake stuff - Adam and I have stopped buying stuff from these types of markets as we find the quality isn't usually good and bargaining is exhausting for us - we didn't have Aleena or the Tran Sisters with us to haggle this time 😄

We did get to a couple of restaurants recommended by friends/people that live in Kong Kong although we had a good list going so hopefully someone else can check out the rest of the list. 

We went to the following:

Chili Faranga (Soho) -  yummy spicy szchewan restaurant that is probably geared to non-Chinese. It was filled with a lot of Indians. This restaurant was Farhan Gilani spicy - so beware if you can't handle spice but it was so tasty! ~ $30CND/dish. I would definitely go back

Zuma (by central station) - modern Japanese that has restaurants in London, Dubai, Rome and a few other places around the world. Sushi was ok but grilled stuff was so tasty esp the lamb chops and beef! Super pricy though - a can of coke was $10 CND as an example. 

Boomstack - chicken and waffle sandwich. This was a place that was recommended and we needed a quick meal. Tasty but portion was too small. Not super memorable 

Ebeneezer - Indian/Lebanese fast food type that has many locations. I'd definitely NOT recommend this 

Other places we were told to try:

Bindaas: modern Indian in Soho (beware closed between lunch and dinner)
Bombay Dreams: also Indian as the name implies and also closed between lunch and dinner 
BEP Vietnamese
Chachawan (Thai)
Butchers club burger 
Sushi Kuu
Myung ga 
21 ships
Mango Tree
Little Bao

Asian Invasion

Although it's been a long journey here already from Calgary to LA and LA to Taipai, we thoroughly enjoyed our 1st day to get a small glimpse of the capital city in Taiwan. We flew with Eva Air to Taipai which was actually a nice airline (we were worried as we hadn't even heard of them but they are part of Star Alliance).

We were fortunate to have Dan, a local Taiwanese, to take us around. Dan is a friend of Sarah's from Digicopy. It was very convenient to have him around as we likely wouldn't have seen what we saw or tried what we did (some good and some bad 😄). In a few months the MTR will go to the airport but wasn't completed yet so we had to take a bus into the city that takes you to Taipai main station. 

The trendiest and most expensive area in Taipai is around Taipai 101, which up until recently was the tallest building in Asia. At the bottom of it is a bunch of High end stores in the multiples. It reminded me a lot of Tokyo Sky tree. We saw at least 3-4 LV stores within 5 min of each other in that area. Must be a lot of wealthy Taiwanese or tonnes of Chinese and Japanese tourists. 

We had Dim sum at Din Tai Fung which is a chain that originated in Taiwan but now has more than 100 locations in the world including in the US. We didn't go to the Tapai 101 location which was wise since it had a 60 min wait when we got to the mall. Although we were limited in what we could order since we don't eat pork, it was tasty and I'd definitely recommend giving it a try! 

Dan took us to a few street food vendors to try some local food as well including a few soups, fried fish etc. We tried a dessert soup that has boiled red bean, green beans, sugar, ice and almond jelly (the Philipinos have something similar called Halo-halo), a dessert soup made of boiled peanuts and a bunch of jellies such as Taro, etc. We also tried a Chinese medicine tea. Of all the things we tried, I'd only repeat the Dim sum, bubble tea and the savoury soups 😄.  In our street food journeys, we went to a couple of Buddist temples and went to a riverfront area but it's wasn't a super nice day. A lot of people bike and use motorbikes here like in Vietnam. 

Taipai has an area called Beitou, which has natural hot springs and geysers within the city and nice spas around it. We didn't get a chance to go here. Tam Shui, the harbour front area is also supposed to be nice as well. 

By the end of the day, we had walked over 20,000 steps and 18 flights of stairs (mostly MTR stations) according to Adam's Fitbit - my brother who we nicknamed "shin splints" on our South America trip would have died lol. 

Jordan's Capital, Amman

Adam and I cut our trip to Israel short by 1 day and decided to come to Jordan 1 day early which was 1 day earlier than Aleena and Samir. We flew from Tel Aviv to Amman but although it was quick and efficient, it was very expensive for a 35-45 min flight. Ideally, a trip from Israel to Jordan would go from Jerusalem to Petra, which I think is likely the closest by land. We also weren't sure if we would be just wasting time being detained again at the border so we chose to fly. The visa was 40 JOD which is almost $80/person but there is an exchange and an ATM at the airport to get JODs. 

We stayed at the Intercontinental the 1st 2 nights which was really nice with a great location very close to Rainbow street, which is where a lot of restaurants and shops are. The service at the hotel was exceptional! We went to Taj mall via taxi on our first day to check it out. Very modern as expected but apparently there weren't giving out the Vat refund that month because there was a glitch in the nation wide VAT refund system. It has restaurants such as PF Changs and other popular American chains. Compared to Israel/Palestine, Amman had a tonne of America chains such as KFC, Applebee's, Starbucks, Papa Johns, McDonalds, Subway, etc. 

When we came back from the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum, we stayed at Aleena's friend, Farah's apartment, which was 2 bedroom and also well located in an area called Webde. She was in Kenya for a wedding that week so unfortunately we just missed her. 

We had a driver for our trip in Jordan which was super convenient especially since we had a lot of ground we wanted to cover on our last 1.5 days in a Amman. Maher, our driver, used to live in the U.S. so he had fantastic English but could also translate Arabic when we needed him to in the markets, etc. He was quite a quirky guy and we had a lot of laughs about Aleena's bargaining skills. Aleena is a master bargainer! I was extremely impressed and it made for a lot of laughs over our trip. Even Maher was impressed with Aleena's bargaining skills with everything from souvenirs to the exchange rate for USD to JODs. We ended up laying 600 JD in total (300 each couple which is about $600 for 6 days including airport pick ups and drop offs). We did tip him on top as well. 

Our time in Amman was very busy and we would have gotten so much less accomplished if he didn't have a driver. The highlights were roaming around the downtown area of Amman looking for unique gifts and home decor. We had heard good things about a place called Jordan River Handicrafts but unfortunately there is a place with a similar name also on Rainbow street so we didn't go to the proper place. 
 My favourite purchase that I debated on a lot was a Turkish looking light that we hope to put up in our future powder room. As its fragile, we will be lugging it as carry on.

We visited a Turkish Bath or Hammam as we were told they were even better here than in Turkey. Overall it was a good experience but man these ladies are rough. We went to Alf Layla Wa Layla which is in West Amman and rated highly on tripadvisor as well as being one of the only ones that takes men and women at the same time in different sections as opposed to at different times or days of the week for men and women.  We started with a rinse, a dip in the jacuzzi, then steam where we were offered fruit slushies then the Hammam part followed by a 15 min massage. Both the Hammam part where you are aggressively exfoliated with a loofah and the massage part were a bit uncomfortable from the heavy handed women. Adam and Samir have really never had that type of exfoliation not to mention Adam was worked on by a large guy whose belly kept hitting him on numerous occasions. The base rate is 30 JD but can add on anything under the sun to get as high as 150 JD which is almost $300. 

Overall, Jordan was fun to visit and Aleena and Sam were fantastic travelling companions but I don't think it's a place I'd crave going back to unlike Turkey which is more developed. 

Amman Food Addition
- Fakhr El-Din $$$
Really yummy Jordanian food especially liked the Shishtaouk with mushrooms, lamb kabobs and chicken wings. Busy restaurants with nice outdoor seating

- Karmas Kitchen $$$
New area in West Amman. Cute ambiance and really yummy fresh food. Adam booked this for my birthday dinner! Close to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Coffee shop which is another coffee chain we frequented a lot in Vietnam, etc. Yummy lamp chops, freekah salad, shwarma buns made with Angus beef and flourless chocolate cake.

- Sufra $$
Food Jordanian food with a super cute back patio but I liked Fakhr El-Din better if you had to choose one.

- Hasheems $
Super cheap and yummy falafels, hummus etc shared family style. Apparently the King of Jordan eats at this hole in the wall place as well and so it's very famous, busy and chaotic. A very local feel

- Al-Quds $
Very cheap falafel wraps to-go on Rainbow Street

- Nuts to Go $
Nutella crepes. Expensive for Jordanian standards but a nice treat

- Rumi Cafe $
Good Illy lattes/cappuccinos etc. Not much food per se. Jordan generally isn't a great place for coffee so it was nice to have a good latte after some yucky coffee this week

- Gloria Jeans $
Reunited with our favourite international coffee place for a yummy flavoured lattes located at the Taj Mall. 

- B Lebanese pastries $
Cheap Jordanian savoury pastries. Our favourite of the one we tried was filled with meat/lamb.

We were supposed to go to a cooking class called Biet Sitti which is #1 on tripadvisor but traffic was bad after the Hammam and we were going to be late for the class and considering that it's 35 JD/person and we wouldn't get to enjoy the whole thing, we just got a couple more things done and went out to eat instead. Also heard good things about the restaurant Levant and went to see the view at Canteloupe which was really nice but we decided to eat at Sufra instead since it was our last night of middle eastern food. Juice bars are frequent in Amman and in Israel which are always a nice treat on vacation although they aren't as common as in Rio, Brazil. 

Petra trekking and the Wadi Rum Stars

Petra, which means Rock or Stones, is one of the most famous sites in Jordan. It's a Unesco World Heritage site and was listed in the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. It is known for the rock cut formations dating back to around 5th century BC. 

We opted to get a guide for our hike through Petra which was 50 JD which is about a $100 (split by 4). The entrance alone was also 50 JD each person and Petra by night is 17 JD (separate ticket even if you already paid the entrance for the day) - all. Quite pricy in my opinion. We are glad we got a tour or else we would have aimlessly roamed around. The picture that is most frequently taken of Petra is of the Treasury. 

Petra is probably better explored outside of July and August. If it wasn't 40 degrees, it would have been nice to spend some more time hiking around and exploring the nooks and crannies of Petra. We did Petra by night when we arrived and then woke up very early to start hiking in Petra before the extreme heat hit. Petra by Night is essentially a walk to the treasury lined by candle lit in paper bags to give them a bit more of a glow. As you can imagine, this ordinarily would be an extreme fire hazard but luckily there is nothing flammable on the ground as its mostly rocks and sand with minimal vegetation. 

There isn't a tonne to do in Petra in the evenings as its a very basic strip of touristy restaurants and souvenir shops. The city that the locals live in is called Wadi Mussa, which is the closest to Petra. We ate at Red Cave restaurant  and  went to the Cave, which was a cool little restaurant/patio outside of our hotel after Petra by Night. We stayed at Petra Guest House which is literally at the entrance of Petra national park. Although the location was stellar, it's quite old especially the rooms we got. Another part of the hotel looked a bit newer but I can't imagine that great. There was a Movenpick Hotel across the street which we also heard is older but likely still better but we didn't explore it. There is a Marriott and another new looking Movenpick hotel a little ways away that have stunning views of Petra from a hilltop but I imagine you'd get gouged for a taxi to the entrance of Petra and back.  

After exploring Petra by day, our driver Maher took us to Wadi Rum. We were fairly wiped and thank god we had a driver as I think we all passed out in the car on most drives between destinations. In retrospect, Wadi Rum was an interesting experience but again would have been better enjoyed when it wasn't so hot. We booked a "package" at Wadi Rum Luxury Tents which included the stay including dinner (good) and breakfast (very basic), a camel ride and a jeep tour of a few areas in the desert. My favourite part of the jeep tour was rolling down a sand dune which was so soft and fun to get sleep on. The other parts required a good amount of hiking/walking but without a wow destination. Apparently the jeep tour at sunset is quite nice but we weren't told that was an option before and were being gouged to add it on the spot. The tents themselves were cute but shared bathrooms which were actually nice. Maybe I'm a brat now but I was expecting a bit more "luxury" lol. We had some more traditional Jordanian meals such as Mansaf and had a good time just chilling and playing cards. After the sun completely set, it was nice to sit out under the cool night sky with more stars than I think I've ever seen before. Sam and Aleena had Sheesha almost every night which is of course the thing to do in Jordan including by the camp fire. There was a Beduin who also sang songs by the camp fire (not Kumbaya of course) which was nice although we didn't know what any of it meant. We passed out early that evening and opted to do our camel ride in the morning when it was a but cooler. Although this was my second time riding a camel (1st in Dubai), It was nice but kept thinking about Shy and what she would think of us riding an animal lol. I didn't think it could happen. Yet Sameer's camel was very feisty and actually booted him off and he still got on after which I'm not sure if I could have. In slow motion, it looked like Sam was bull riding and he was very lucky that the camel didn't step on him or else there would have crushed bones for sure. The rest of our camels were well behaved. 

Wadi Rum is close to Aqaba which is the famous beach area of Jordan but we opted to skip it as we had limited days and 45 degree heat isn't really beach whether unfortunately. Aqaba is known for their nuts so our driver brought us some as he had slept in Aqaba while we were at the luxury tents. I imagine there are some nice hotels along the beach as it looks like most of the international hotel chains was hotels there. 

Luxuriously Floating in the Dead Sea

Visiting the Dead Sea was a really fun time! It is the weirdest thing to float without effort although you have to be careful not to get any salt water in your eyes as it burns like hell. For guys, make sure you shave the night before or else that will burn as well. Another English speaking girl in the Dead Sea at the same time as us explained it as feeling like she was swimming in warm milk. Our resort was huge and walking to the Dead Sea area in 40 degree heat was definitely challenging but I made sure I went twice a day to maximize! 

The Dead Sea is lined with nice hotel/resorts with multiple pools and then a beach area that goes into the Dead Sea. We stayed at the Kempinski hotel which we heard was the most luxurious but I know other people who have stayed at the Movenpick and also loved it.  Aleena and I also did our own Dead Sea mud treatment although we all visited the spa as well which was a nice treat but definitely a splurge. All 4 of us got facials and enjoyed the indoor spa pools which is right up Adam's alley since he can be sheltered from the sun. Adam did go into the Dead Sea briefly and into the infinity pool which had an amazing view! We stayed on the hotel property the entire time as there really wasn't much to do there except relax but because you're more isolated, the hotel is definitely taking advantage of that. We killed our budget in the 1.5 days we were there but well worth it although we should have left it to the end after all the walking in Petra and Wadi Rum. 

We tried a bunch of local foods in the evening International Buffet at the resort which started our addiction for Warbat, which is a Jordanian dessert similar to Baklava but less sweet and syrupy and reminds me of Turkish baklava. So yummy! We also tried the famous dessert in a Amman called Kanafeh which has similar ingredients to baklava/Warbat but with cheese so essentially a sweet cheese pastry. Very indulgent! I don't want to step on the scale when we get back!

West Bank/Palestine

This is a long one so props to everyone that makes it to the end! 

Our tour to Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank was the highlight of our trip to Israel/Palestine. Our tour guide was Palestinian through a company called Green Olive Tours and as much as he tried to be impartial, we saw first hand some of the injustices going on in Palastine. The term Occupied Palastine is much more meaningful now. As a disclaimer, we would have loved to go on the same tour through the eyes of an Israeli Jew but unfortunately we didn't see that option and spending much of the rest of our time in Israel and a tour of Jerusalem with an Israeli, we feel we had gotten some insight from the other side already. 

We were picked up in Jerusalem but our tour didn't officially start until we picked up our tour guide from an area near Bethlaham which is a Palastinian territory since our guide isn't allowed into Jerusalam. On route to Hebron, our bus was boarded by Israeli soldiers more than once in a "flying" checkpoint where our passports were checked to ensure we were "internationals" and not Palestinians. We drove by the village where a 18 month old Palestinian child was burned alive and some violence broke out a week before we arrived.  It's very obvious to see what is an illegal settlement and what is a Palestinian home. Israel basically controls all the resources, roads, etc. They also control the water and when conflict breaks out, it is used as a weapon where water is cut off to Palestinian homes. So Palestinian homes will always have water tanks on the roofs and the settlers homes are usually red roofed, a more European style of building. 

In Hebron there are ~850,000 Palestinians and 550 Jews with over 2000 Israel soldiers protecting the only 550 settlers (roughly 4:1). Apparently most of the Jewish settlers are from Russia or the U.S. and are the most extremist Jews. Hebron is now divided into H1 (full Palestinian control) and H2 (Israeli control). Now we all asked, why would these 550 want to live there and why is Israel mobilizing all of these resources to protect only 550 people? Hebron is the site where Abraham and his family are buried and Abraham is sacred in both religions. After the 1994 massacre during prayers during the month of Ramadan, an American Jew entered the mosque and open fired on people praying that day. The official count was 29 people murdered and hundreds injured but that doesn't include the people killed by Israeli soldiers outside the mosque and during protests following the event. The man who open fired was beaten to death by people inside the mosque but he is now considered a martyr and people pay respects to his tomb. The Israeli military then  imposed a two-month curfew and closed down Shuhada Street in Hebron and now that main Street cannot be walked on by Palastinains although it's a main street that leads to the mosque and many Palastinian homes. We witnessed an extreme juxtaposition of the lives of a Palastinian and an Israeli woman. As a Palastinian woman came to the junction where she could not use this particular street to get to her destination with a young baby and her stroller, a kind teenager was summoned to lift the stroller up numerous stairs and across a cemetery which as we climbed the same stairs in the 38 degree heat, we were wiped. Not even 1 min later we watched an Israeli woman with her child in a stroller on the same street leisurely walking by as the mom was texting on her cell phone. 

After the aforementioned incident in 1994, the mosque was split up into part mosque and part synagogue where part of Abraham's tomb is in the mosque and the other part in the synagogue separated by bulletproof glass so they can't shoot at each other. The odd thing is that Palestinians get checked by Israelis before going into their own mosque but we saw with our own eyes younger Israeli males walking around with guns (non-soldiers). On that particular day, we weren't allowed into the synagogue unfortunately but we were told by our guide just to tell everyone we are Christians, if asked. On major Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur, the entire Mosque is converted into a synagogue but the opposite does not occur for occasions like Eid. 

During our tour we walked through a popular Palestinian market which had a barbed wire "roof" because there has been numerous instances where the Israelis that live above the market have thrown garbage, liquid waste and even feces on top of the people walking through the market. Really really sad. Even when we were there, we could see garbage on the "roof". This was put up upon recommendation of TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) that documents and reports what is happening in the area (

We had lunch at a Palestinian person's house and a different family in need is chosen every Saturday for the lunch as we pay them directly for the meal. We had something that was basically like a mild biryani/pilau with yogurt and a side salad which again is like cutchumber (sp?!). The gentlemen's house we ate at has been through quite a lot to stay in his home including being on house arrest for 2 years, his wife being beaten so badly that twice she had a miscarriage at 4 months etc etc. He basically had a trailer park started on top of his house for someone high up in the Israeli military and the main road to his house is for Israelis only. He now has to show a permit to the Israeli solder to walk 100 meters on an Israeli road as he had to come get us as our Palestinian tour guide couldn't walk us to his house. A new soldier was patrolling the area and we were super worried that something would happen as there was a confrontation between the soldier and the gentlemen whose house we were eating at. If you're interested, we took a few videos of the random encounters where we were quick enough to capture it. Apparently it's much safer around when "internationals" are around as both sides are on their best behaviour. 

Another disturbing thing that we saw was graffiti on the street that Palestinians weren't allowed on that said "Gas the Arabs". After going through the very well done Holocaust museum called Yad Hashem in Jerusalem, that would have been the last thing you'd expect. Someone's comment was "the abused becomes the abuser" which you couldn't help but feel the same way when you saw what was going on first hand. With that being said, I would have loved to take the exact same tour of Hebron with an Israeli as there are always two sides to the conflict. 

I have many more stories but this post is getting quite lengthy. I hope to come back and add photos from my camera once they are uploaded.

On a tour of Old Jaffa city outside of Tel Aviv, where is one area that Muslims and Jews live harmoniously, I picked up something that I'd like to add here as its informative and also puts a positive end to this post.

"The Hamsa known in Islamic societies as the Hand of Fatima and in Jewish lore as the Hand of Miriam, serves as an Ancient talismanic way of averting the evil eye or more generally of providing a "protecting hand" or "Hand of God". Some sources link the significance of the the Five fingers to the five books of the Toorah, or to the five pillars of Islam. In recent years, some activists for Middle East peace have chosen to wear the Hamsa as a symbol of the similarities of origins and tradition between the Islamic and Jewish faiths."