Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Highlights

By now I have received several consoling feedbacks from people reading my blog where regret is expressed for what the feedbackers consider, based upon the contents of my blog thus far, a rather unsuccessful overseas trip. I would therefore like to correct the impression: sure, there were many bad turns in our trip, but overall we've all greatly enjoyed it!
The main reason why I didn't bother covering the positives thus far has been my plan to create a detailed travel journal like document in Flickr and use the blog to discuss the main motifs only. However, as processing the photos takes a while and as there is an obvious need to correct people's false impressions, I thought I should dedicate a post to recount the positive highlights of our trip.
So here goes - here are the things I've enjoyed the most in our trip, specified in chronological order:

1. Being crammed up in a van:
Jo's parents lent us one of their pickup vans, which was never meant to carry people, yet it carried myself (the driver), Jo (the navigator), Georgia in her booster seat, Dylan in his baby seat, and Jane stuck in the middle of the back seat between the babies without being able to move a millimeter and with the handbrake serving as her footrest. Together we went to nice places and not that nice places, but the highlight was the drive itself.
My favorites were Georgia's made up stories involving Princess Georgia and Prince Dylan as well as lots of magic poo, and us getting lost through some very scenic English countryside scenery. Things went wrong when I programmed Jo parents' address into Jane's Garmin GPS and put the wrong suburb but the right street (mainly due to confusion resulting from Jo parents' place being somewhat out of three different suburbs). Then things went a little bit wronger when the GPS kept telling us to "turn now" but in fact meant we should turn in 400 meters, unlike our Tomtom GPS that says "turn now" only 50 meters in advance. Between this and that, we ended up at this quiet street in the middle of nowhere (more middle of nowhere than Jo parents' place is, if one can imagine that). It was picturesque, it was scenic, but it wasn't where we wanted to be. So we just burst out laughing and listened to more of Georgia's magic poo stories while Jane was still crammed to death in the back seat.

2. Bath:
We wanted to go to Bath to witness its Royal Crescent, hailed as one of architecture's better achievements and supported by our recent rising interest in architecture. Indeed, this famous 18th century street is quite marvellous: No 1 Royal Crescent is yet another overpriced British museum that shows how the houses looked like at their original time. It's overpriced, it doesn't allow photo taking, but it was good: in each room there was a person all too eager to tell you the room's story in person. Turns out there weren't any toilets there, and it's not because the people back then didn't have the need; as it was, people were fine dining Jane Austen style, but then moved to the back of the room behind a curtain to have themselves a good dump. I guess the food wasn't the main thing supplying the aroma at the time.
Anyway, turns out that Bath is much more than this Crescent. It is a fascinating place, full of history and atmosphere but not too full of tourist traps and consume-consume-consume shops. Even the food there was good, quite an achievement anywhere in England. Bath is exactly the way I imagine good English towns to be. Highly recommended!

3. Cambridge:
To be fair, we've had less than an hour to see the bits of Cambridge we wanted to see, and most of that time was spent chasing down Isaac Newton. His Trinity College, one of many that are worth a look, was quite fascinating and easily demonstrated where the inspiration for Hogwarts came from. To summarize, we've seen enough to know we want to come back to Cambridge, if only in order to go on a river punt (hope the weather would be good, because I'm not risking my camera and peripherals falling to the water; not to mention my dear old self).

4. Druze restaurant:
My Israeli friends took us on a pilgrimage tour of a Druze town. I say "pilgrimage" mostly because we ended up going the wrong way so many times that day that we felt like pilgrims, the highlight being us getting things totally lost in the one way alleyways of the Druze town while people came pouring to the street to perform some sort of a religious ritual.
The true delight, though (other than reacquainting with my friends and their fascinating kids) was eating at a Druze restaurant. The food was quite unique: for example, as an experiment we've ordered this dish that is made of rice, lamb and yogurt. Now, normally, I can't stand lamb meat and with the exception of Indian food I hate it when yogurt is mixed with proper food, but the combination offered by that particular dish was something else. It wasn't just unique, it was tasty!

5. Jerusalem:
Jerusalem is one of the places I hate the most, but I still had fun going there with my friends. We even left Dylan back with my mother, which meant it was the second time ever we went out to have ourselves some fun without Dylan on board.
Together with my friends we had ourselves a tour of the old city, including the markets (where Palestinians who thought we were Americans shared their rather uncomplimentary views of the USA with us), the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holly Spatula (or whatever's it's called; you know, the place where Jesus was supposedly crucified). Highlights included Uri bargaining for a can of Coke and Haim taking a photo of me with a Kippa on my head in front of the Wailing Wall. The photo is way too wide-angly but it seemed to have made Haim's day. The day itself was hot and stinky but still worth it.
The tour ended with lunch that featured good humus, shishlik, kebab, and Haim and I arguing over pickles. Just the way any good tour should end.

6. Masada:
Masada is a fortress lying on top of a mountain located just in front of Israel's Dead Sea, famous for what took place there during the Jewish revolt against the Romans during early AD years. It's not like I truly enjoyed going to the place; what I did write down as an achievement is us being able to take Dylan to the top of the mountain and come back to talk about it on a 37 degree day.
Now, I can say more about the place's history and comment about what contemporary Israeli folklore regards as the heroism of the people fortifying themselves in Masada at the time, but I won't. Instead, I'll refer you to watch Life of Brian once again, because it truly is the best historical depiction of what went on in peoples' heads at the time in that particular area of the world. Pay close attention to the scene discussing what good the Romans did to the people of Israel (or is it the people of Judea?).

7. Singapore:
There are plenty of things I've enjoyed in Singapore, too many to count. For a start, they have free wireless all over the state, and then they have shopping malls dedicated to IT and electronic gadgets! Entire shopping malls! Pity these shopping malls don't specialize in the pricing department: Singapore is cheaper than Australia, but not cheap enough to justify warranty less gadget purchases. Not that I need anything in particular.
Our hotel was smashingly good, the people were friendly as, and we've even enjoyed walking around the place and doing plain touring (yes, there is such to be done in Singapore; it's not only shopping malls, you know). My personal highlight was eating at the food court of the Funan IT shopping mall: It doesn't sound like we should have expected much there, but for $3.80 each we got two excellent servings of chicken rice (a tasty local dish), for $2.60 more we got to bits of this Indian inspired bread (another local dish), and for $2 more an Ice Kachang dessert (a tower of ice with sugary stuff poured over it, supplemented by stuff like red beans and soy jelly). It was great, original, authentic, good - and it cost us less than $10 once converted to Aussie currency.

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