5 “Free” Things to Do in Jerusalem

Posted: March 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates, Free | 2 Comments »

Most of the religious sites in Jerusalem are free of charge. However, you’ll quickly discover that not many other things are, and what is free usually has a “donations” charge tacked onto the bottom of it. Here are 5 “free” things to do in Jerusalem:

Yad Vashem


Yad Vashem is an extensive Holocaust museum. And when I mean extensive, I mean it took us almost 4 hours to get through every section of the main museum (and we were walking through rather quickly towards the end). It covers from the rise of Hitler all the way to the end of World War II in exhausting detail. Of course, being in Israel, it focuses on the Jewish experiences in the ghettos and concentration camps. However, there’s some mention of the other persecuted minorities and a section on the Resistance which Rick particularly found intriguing. They have an actual cobblestone street from one of the ghettos running through a section and another train car for one of the concentration camps. The main museum ends in a large room containing books listing every single person sent to a concentration camp and/or persecuted. It’s quite sobering.

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Jerusalem & Religion

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


Wow, it’s been almost a month since my last posting.  I’ve been working on a New Years resolution of mine called "Write 1 Submit 1" which you can read in more detail here if you’re at all interested.  Suffice to say, it’s been kicking my butt.  That, combined with the innumerable wonders Italy has to offer, and I’ve ended up with approximately 20+ posts queued up, all outlined out with notes, and nowhere near completion.  If you’re curious about where we are (and if we’re still alive) when I’m being a slacker, I do have a nascent twitter account (@ctbideas or https://twitter.com/ctbideas for all you non-twitter folk) where I write about random things that catch my attention, plus the occasional Rick Joke which enjoy a certain cachet among those in the know.  All right, enough of a Public Service Announcement.  On to more interesting things. 

When one think of Jerusalem, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the religious significance of this city.  It is the center of 3 major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  And the first thing I realized as I walked through the Old City of Jerusalem, is how much tension still exists between and within these three main faiths. Everyone is so careful not to offend anyone or be offended by anyone, I felt like I was stepping on eggshells everywhere we went, never knowing if we were in the right place or dressed correctly or saying the right things or accidentally offending someone with some innocuous gesture. 

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Reflections of the 5th Month

Posted: February 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


Wow, I can’t believe 5 months have passed.  I’ve absorbed so much over the past 5 months and become so inspired.  I have tons of ideas for future projects, to the point that Rick fears I’ll be a workaholic even while I’m on vacation.  (psst, random self-promotion, but if you’re interested in my different interests, they’re all gathered together here.)  I’m not sure if I’ve changed as a person, but I’m still learning.  Here are some things I’ve realized in the last month or so:

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Cappadocia Day Tour & the Goreme Open-Air Museum

Posted: January 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


We had the chance to take in a day tour later on the same day we went on the hot air balloon ride. Due to the snow, our tour ended up being an amalgamation of the various tours the company offered.  The most interesting part was the Derinkuyu Underground City, the deepest one of many underground cities in this region.  The first levels were dug very early on, and as each new group of inhabitants came and went, they dug deeper and wider, so that there ended up being a total of 7 levels, connected by staircases and cisterns and air shafts.  At one point, during persecution, many Christians lived in these underground cities to escape the wrath of authorities.  Later on, the caves were used as rebel military outposts.  Inside, the air is cool, becoming cooler the further we descended.  The passages became tighter and the stairs narrower.  A couple women on our tour became too claustrophobic and opted to leave early and wait for us up top.  We pressed on to see the living areas and even a church carved into the ground.  I can’t even imagine what it’d be like, living underground, but it’s quite fascinating nevertheless. 

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Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride

Posted: January 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | 5 Comments »

The one thing everyone recommends when in the Cappadocia region is to go on a hot air balloon ride.  Having never been on one before, we accepted the rather exorbitant cost (I have no frame of comparison, but it’s a bit more than I’d usually pay for any experience that lasted less than 2 hours) in exchange for a possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The van for Voyager Balloons picked us up from our hotel at 6am sharp and dropped us off at a small restaurant where we stumbled sleepily over to the hot tea and pastries.  Everyone sat around tables chattering, so we listened in while inhaling our sustenance. 



Splitting us up into two groups, we were loaded up into another van which took us to the site of the balloons, still lying limply on their sides when we arrived.  We watched with fascination and lots of camera-clicking as hot jets of flame brought the majestic balloons to life.  Most of the participants in our balloon were all part of a group, so they filled up one side of the basket.  We clambered in the other, along with our balloon pilot.  Our pilot and his partner did their safety spiel and we practiced the all-important landing position.  Rick sidled up next to me and whispered, "Are you going to be ok?"  I’m semi-acrophobic, so this was a very legitimate question. I answered, "I guess we’ll see in a moment." I had nothing to fear, however, for the balloon lifted up with a graceful smoothness.  My sister, who’d been on hot air balloons before, once said, "It’s not like you’re lifting up off the ground, but the ground is dropping away from you," which describes the sensation perfectly.  Soon, the entire snow-capped landscape of Goreme lay below us, still mostly in the shadowy grips of pre-dawn.  We oohed, we ahhed, camera shutters worked frantically, and we sailed over ancient rock formations covered in new-fallen frost. 



Dawn broke over the horizon, spilling golden light over everything, and then we flew high, higher, until we soared above the clouds.  A peaceful silence settled over all of us, only broken by shivering and the occasional snapshot.  Thank goodness the owner of our hotel advised us to wear two socks because the cold seeped through the bottom of the basket and soaked up through our feet. 


After about 45 minutes of flying, our pilot started bringing us down, hopefully somewhere near a waiting truck.  A hot air balloon pilot can only control the up and down direction of the balloon, so he had to bide his time adjusting our altitude until he could find a suitable landing area.  Soon, though, we could see the ground rising up below us and the pilot yelled for us to get into landing position.  In the tiny window cut into the side of the balloon basket, we watched as the level of the ground drew closer and closer.  We braced, but nothing could prepare us for the teeth-rattling bone-shaking landing.  Boom!  Bouncing back up, we hit the ground another 4 times.  By the end, everyone on our side was cheering and cries of indignation emitted from the other side.  Rick and I came to a stop lying face-up towards the sky.  We wiggled around to discover that the other half of our basket was completely buried in snow.  Figures covered completely in white clambered out and one girl said, "Oh, I’ve lost my shoe!"  A frantic search turned up her pink shoe about six inches away from her. 



For a while, we shivered in the foot-deep worth of snow by balloon, trying to warm ourselves by the flame.  Eventually, when the van to take us back didn’t turn up, it was decided we’d trek half a mile away.  We were freezing, but as we hiked, we counted ourselves blessed when we passed another hot air balloon from another company who’d ended up caught in a stand of trees.  Imagine that landing!  Finally we found our van and squeezed inside.  The girl who’d lost her shoe had also somehow developed an icicle on her scarf.  We slowly defrosted as our pilot passed around our certificates of completion.  The large group wanted to defrost further back at their hotel, but another girl travelling alone, Rick, and I decided we still wanted our champagne celebration. 


We arrived at their main office.  Our pilot, with much ceremony, uncorked our champagne and poured us all large glasses.  We cheered, we laughed, and cheered again.  Great fun, and yeah, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The Bus Ride to Goreme and First Impressions

Posted: January 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

Our next stop was to Cappadocia (or Kapadokya as the locals say it).  I’d wanted to visit this fantasyland of fairy chimneys since my good friend visited it a few years ago.  Our 11-hour overnight bus ride started off fine.  We took the light rail to the bus station, confirmed our tickets at the bus office, dropped off our luggage, and had a light inexpensive dinner nearby while we waited.  We arrived back at the bus office about half an hour before our bus was to leave and was directed upstairs to wait again where we watched a partial episode of "Oses Turkiye" (Turkey’s version of "The Voice").  About 10 minutes before, I started becoming antsy.  No one had announced anything or even come get us, so I dragged Rick back down only to discover that almost everyone was already seated on the bus ready to go.  Yikes, if we hadn’t come down, would they have left without us?  No matter, we’d made it on the bus. 


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Observations of Istanbul

Posted: January 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


My first impression of Istanbul is how very packed everything is to one another.  The houses seem squeezed together as if someone had lifted up the ends of the land like a blanket and all the houses had slid to the middle.  Even though the landscape seems so cluttered with buildings, Istanbul is beautiful.  The Turkish people have a flair for displaying their surroundings to the utmost.  At night, the Blue Mosque is lit up like a Disneyland fairytale castle and the Hagia Sophia looms like a great protector.  Even the most mundane areas of daily life are arranged in such a way as to set off their best features.  Walking through a fresh market, the fruits and vegetables are laid out meticulously, each one placed neatly by hand.  We saw the same in a fish market, the heads & tails of each fish all facing the same direction, the gills pulled out in dark-red lines as an easy way for customers to spot freshness.  There seems to be a national sense of aesthetics: orderly, meticulous, and geometric.  It’s so delightful to me when I discover a small hidden corner in Istanbul as lavishly decorated as the greatest national treasure. 

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Reflections of the 4th Month

Posted: January 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


A big orange cat, because I used to love a big orange cat who adored me back (even if he’d rather spit up hairballs than admit it) and who I knew was always waiting for me at home no matter how bad high school could become. 

I feel like I’m taking longer and longer to post these monthly observations.  Before I know it, I’ll be posting 2 months worth at a time. 

So, while sitting on a beach in Tel Aviv, listening to the waves of the Mediterranean Sea wash against the rocks, Rick asked me what I missed from back home.  I told him In-N-Out double cheeseburgers and taco trucks.  All kidding aside (wait, who says I’m kidding?), I do miss the concept of home. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl with some strain of latent evolutionary nesting instinct that’s rearing its head a la Alien, but I do miss having a place to call HOME. 

Rick and I aren’t the picky sort.  Give us a clean bed, a working toilet on the same floor as us, wi-fi internet, plus a lock on the door, and we’re good to go.  We’ve stayed in fancy 4-star hotels, apartments, teeny-tiny rooms just big enough for a bed, and a cave.  Yet, every time we arrive at a new lodging, I can’t help but think how temporary our stay is.  A week.  Two.  Never more than a month.  New neighborhoods to figure out.  New customs to understand. 

I miss that sensation of permanency, the innate understanding that a place is ours and ours alone.  I miss knowing the neighborhood.  I miss familiarity.  And when we’re done with travelling, I wish we had a home to go back to.  Oh, of course we won’t be homeless.  I know that our long-suffering families will always have a place for us until we find another place of our own.  But, it’s not quite the same feeling.  I’m not sure if I’m saying this right, if I’m conveying my emotions with the right words.

This may seem like a departure from an earlier post about how many times I’ve moved in the last 10 years, and how home is wherever Rick (+ internet) is.  All this is still true, in a way. I love travelling.  I love seeing the world with Rick by my side.  I think I could travel for a very long time, given the chance.   But, now, I’m definitely seeing the merits of having a home base, where I can go and reset myself and then fly out again.

I had a lot of other interesting things I’ve learned over the last month or so, but these thoughts have really taken over my brain lately.  So, my friends, for your reading pleasure.  Perhaps next month, I’ll be a bit less maudlin. 

Things to Do in Istanbul

Posted: January 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | 4 Comments »


All right, brace yourself for a MASSIVE post, my friends.  There’s an awful lot of things to do in Istanbul, no matter your interests, and I’m going to tell you about a ton of them.  I’ve split them up into categories & marked all the free things to do in Istanbul with a ** designation before the activity (* if only sometimes free or parts of it are free).  So, if you’re on a budget, just scroll down & look for the pretty stars. 

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Happy New Year!

Posted: January 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


We rung in the New Year while sitting in our Jerusalem hotel, watching a Michael Jackson impersonator dancing around a Christmas tree on TV and toasting with mint lemonade.  Fireworks burst outside, lighting the sky with an orange glow. 

Afterwards, Rick and I talked.  About this past year.  About our fears and expectations for the next year.  I said how I wanted to be the best version of myself and persevere in our dreams no matter what obstacles may crop up.  Then, Rick said something that really resonated with me: After talking to so many people on our trip, I’ve realized that we are so blessed.  And I think we should use our blessings to help the people around us in whatever little ways we can. So I think we’ve adopted these are our New Years Resolutions. 
I think our next year will be as full with changes as this last year was.  However, I know one thing for sure, Rick and I will be able to face whatever comes full-on.

I hope your next year overflow with an abundance of blessings and that it will be filled with love, joy, and adventure of the best sort.  May you experience wonderful moments that turn into life-changing memories.  Hugs to every one of you.  Happy 2014!