Friday, March 27, 2015

Comparison of Two Novels on Israel/Palestine

This is the first time in a LONG time that I have felt like writing on this blog. It is the blog that I consider my own blog and think of as a record of what really matters to me. In it I have written a LOT about thoughts about education and educational techology especially, travel, and other topics.

Now I feel like I need to write about two books that I have recently read and highly recommend. I want to write because I have learned that a blog becomes a record of what I think (I really enjoy looking back to what I wrote since 2005 and realizing that I still agree with myself!) Also, I do want other people to read this if they want to and are interested. Somehow having an imagined audience makes the act of writing this more meaningful than just putting some thoughts into a journal that gets tucked into a drawer. Writing my deeper feelings is good and I have done plenty of it. I do not want to share it and so I do not put it in a blog. 

In 2009 I did a trip with my husband which I called the Mediterranean Odyssey (the name of my blog, which I actually enjoy reading again!) because we went to Greece, Turkey, Israel, and then Italy.  Crazy!  My husband does First Century Christianity and is very interested in material remains (archaeology) and so has taken and led many study trips to this area. This travel involved some of his own research and two different travel groups.

What the dividing wall (fence?) would do to Jesus' birth
For ME it involved a life-changing stay in Israel and Palestine which gives me the urge to read these books and then write about them. 

The issues in Israel and Palestine are HUGE and intractible. Staying there I was struck by how injust it is for the Palestinians especially and yet how muddy any solution seems.

So, after a longish introduction on to the books. If you only skim this, but stop now definitely READ the books. They are both well written and engaging reads.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

These are not really two books to compare. I don't want to tell you which one I liked better. I don't want to tell you which one seemed to be closer to the truth. They are VERY different books. Mornings in Jenin is a novel about generations of a Palestinian family that starts in the 1940's and goes through 6 decades and four generations of a families life. It is tragic and sad. It is unbelievably unfair. It rang true to what I experienced in 2009 in Bethlehem on the West Bank. 

I left the West Bank wondering HOW any humans could justify treating people like the Palestinians are treated. I had visited a friend in Hertzelia before going to Bethlehem and was struck by how kind and hopeful for peace she and her husband were. How can something so clearly injust go on? I still feel that when I read about Gaza or about illegal or growing legal settlements.

I am glad that the book was written and hope that lots of people read it and have a better understanding of what brings someone to do a suicide bombing (which is really hard to understand?) or to feel imprisoned in their own country.

When I heard about The Hilltop I immediately decided I needed to read it. It is about the beginnings of a new settlement outpost just a ways beyond a legal settlement and with the same name and the addition of -C to show that it was the third. There was another settlement with -B in between. 

The Hilltop byAssaf Gavron

The Hilltop is a book of realistic fiction with a "comic edge" (accurate in my opinion description from a review by Adam Kirsch). In reading reviews it seems to me to be a pretty good picture of how settlements can happen and more close to the truth than my earlier sense that a group of New York Jews who cannot afford housing in NY, but want to return to the land of their faith as whole hearted believers risk everything to start an outpost (totally my own perception and description)

The novel describes a much more complicated reflection of what could actually happen and according to some reviews closer to what is really happening. Each settler has their own story and life history. They come from different places, have different callings, and different hopes for their living situations. Some are looking for their own gain, others are lazy, others idealistic, and some are very religious. This is all complicated by a government infrastructure that is divided so that laws can be tightly followed or shrugged off depending on who you talk to and when you talk to them. 

The result is life going on in a settlement that sees ups and downs and also growing tension with the Palestinians nearby. The injustice of the situation for the Palestinians is a tiny bit more understandable, but the solution is still totally unclear to me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Final Thoughts on Travel in Greece

One thing that really impressed me on this trip was the difference between the four Islands that we visited. It made me realize that most of us in the US only have one chance to go to Greece and all of the islands are so different. 

Europeans do not have to travel so far to get to Greece and it is part of the European Union, so it is easy for them to go there on vacation. Many of them have favorite islands that they go to often. Also there are many people who visit lots of the islands. The best way to find out about the islands, I think, is to look at blogs from people who have been there. This will give you an idea if an certain island is one that you would enjoy. A really helpful blog about this is called Greece and the Greek Islands. The author is Hans Huisman from the Netherlands. He has been to 40 islands!  I didn't know there were that many. Anyway, I highly recommend this blog if you are thinking of traveling to Greece. I agreed with the things he said about the islands that I had visited.

Here are my quick impressions:

1.  Rhodes-Lots of Medieval history. Best walled in city with a mote and a castle to visit!  There are real people living in the old walled in city. Big island, so renting a car to get around is worth it for a day or so. 
2. Kos - Busy night life, lots of tourist shops with lots of the same tourist things on sale that you see everywhere, great bike paths and bike rental, creative cocktails, Greco-roman ruins that are fantastic, but not well marked or preserved and maintained.

3. Patmos - a small spiritual island. The main thing you first see is the Monastery at the top of the mountain. LOTS of beaches, possibility to take hikes or walks and find quiet places, nice people. It also seems to have less vegetation. It seems dryer.

4. Samos - Much larger island, A feel of modern people who are living here, not just tourists. Some of the nicest things to see are at the top of mountains. To see things it is nice to rent a car. I really liked the walk up Manolates. Very different artistic items being sold by people there. Sort of an artist cooperative feel. 


Its OK if you only speak English (but learning another language is a great thing to do!) Everywhere we went people spoke English. Now and then they say they don't speak much English, but it seemed like everyone understood what we said and responded in ways we could understand. 

Don't expect to take a bath in most hotels that you stay in. The bathtubs that I tried were VERY narrow and seemed to be there for children mostly. 

If you are going to want to wash a few items of clothing remember to bring a stopper for the sink. The best kind is the flat piece of rubber type that will fit any size. Many places that we stayed did not have stoppers in the sink or tub. One time we asked for one and when we put it in we could not get it out! 

Dealing with Jet Lag - When you arrive in a place DO NOT take a nap. Keep active until it is night and then sleep a full night's sleep. When you get up the next day begin as if there is no time difference. It helped me also to take Jet Lag Pills. You can find them in Whole Foods or some other sort of natural store. They are a natural solution. You chew them (they just taste a little sweet). The box says to take one an hour before you take off on your first flight and then every two hours after that, unless you are sleeping and then you can take one when you wake up. I am not sure how they work, but I think that they helped me. I did not have any nights that I was awake or afternoons where I was extremely drowsy. I did sleep like a log the first few nights, but then things got normal.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Our final island was Samos. It is also the largest island that we were on. Samos has mountains in the middle of the island and many of the sites are driving distance, so we rented a car two of the days. 

On Steve's birthday we drove to several villages up different mountains and also looked at a museum and an archaeological site. 

This is a tiny road that people drive on between the different restaurants.

Samos has an important archaeological site which features a temple for Hera, so it is called the Heraion. At this site they found these huge statues called Kouros. You can see in this picture their size compared to people nearby. 

We also had a meal at Kokari. This is such a nice place with all of these restaurants right next to the water.

We stayed at the Samos Bay hotel which was very nice. It is set right next to a nice beach. It seems like a place that you could just go to and stay right there at the hotel and the beach right there. We actually never went to the beach there because we were so busy driving all around the island. 

There was a great breakfast at this hotel also. Every morning there was a different kind of hot egg dish along with all of the other things that we had come to expect ;-)  They had a big tub of nutella with little bowls so that you could take how much you wanted!  They also had Greek yogurt, fruit and honey. 

We did walk to the main city in Samos Bay, which is also called Vathy. They were doing lots of roadwork right along the harbor. Judging by the smell it was sewage pipes that they were working on. It was not pleasant, so we did not spend much time there. 

On Friday, June 20th we flew from Samos to Athens, then to Philadelphia and then finally to Austin. It was one REALLY long day. We went to the airport at 7 am in Samos and arrived in Austin at 9:30 pm. Then add another 8 hours for the time zones that we went through. That makes a 20 hour day. Next I will write one more post about my general impressions and some tips that I want to remember for when I travel again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


I have been home for a week now, meaning to catch up with the blog, but real life keeps flying by. Today I am going to post the pictures of Patmos and Samos and then maybe do a post about my overall impressions. I tried to write on the plane, but somehow my brain was not cooperating. 

Patmos was my favorite of all the islands that we visited. It was much smaller and calmer. There were fewer tourists and they were most interested in seeing the cave where John had his vision and wrote Revelation. 

I am just going to put in pictures with captions rather than go through day by day what we did!

The Monastery of St. John
This is the Scala Harbor and we stayed at the Scala Hotel.  From the harbor you could look up to the monastery. The other buildings that are on the hill on the way down are the Seminary (the building that looks like a stairway) and the building that has the cave where John had his vision of Revelation and wrote it down.

Our hotel was nice. This entryway leads to a courtyard with an outdoor pool. There was a delicious breakfast buffet every morning (nutella every morning!) (Greek yogurt with fruit and honey-yum)

Here is a view from inside the courtyard looking out to the bay!

This is a beautiful view from a restaurant at the Monastery. You can see Steve in the shadows enjoying Mythos beer.

The island is so skinny that you can walk from one side of the island-the bay where we were staying to the other side of the island where we watched the sun set.  You can see this beach is more of a rocky beach where people don't swim.

All over the island people have built small chapels dedicated to different saints. They hold services at these chapels. I think that it takes the place of having a larger church. On the island you have a big monastery, but not other large churches.

See the size of the chapel!

We ate interesting things. These are the shrimp that I ordered. They came with heads and all. It was challenging to eat them. We also had saganaki (fried cheese) which was delicious, but I dreamed of shrimp and cheese (I think it was tough on my stomach.

When I had shrimp Steve had calimari. It was interesting. We agreed that we would have been better off if we had just shared one thing. 

Steve observed people at the Cave of St. John and then spent lots of time recording all of the things he saw. I played games on my ipad and read books. Steve worked, but it was nice being together.

On Father's Day we walked to Meloi bay and found a great restaurant overlooking that bay. We ate and the sun set behind us. It was beautiful.

Our last day on Patmos was very interesting!  We had a chance to get a boat ride out to this tiny island called Island of St. Thekla. It has a small chapel on it dedicated to St. Thekla. The chapel has icons of mostly women saints in it. 

This is the boat that took us out to the island.

The only thing regularly living on the island are goats. They almost look like longhorns!

The small chapel is in a sort of compound and has places for people to celebrate and set out food for the Feast Day of St. Thekla which is in September. 

The other thing that we had a chance to do was to meet with a Monk, Father Pachoumios from the monastery. He explained to us the meaning of the various icons and even showed us the monastery library. We were able to ask him lots of questions about being a monk and he was kind enough to answer. It was really interesting.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Odd Things we did in Kos

When we went to get the catamaran (fast ferry) that we were going to take from Kos to Patmos we found out that it does not make that trip on Wednesdays, so we had to switch to taking a ferry (5 hours, stopping along the way) that left at 7:30 pm. All of a sudden we had more time than we thought we were going to have on Kos. So, we had time to do some of the crazy things on our minds. 

Turkey is off in the distance
First we actually spent the morning relaxing at the beach. Right after breakfast we walked down to the beach nearest to the Kos Harbor and settled down on two lounge chairs. We just spent hours there relaxing. Now I finally know why people come to Greece!  It really is relaxing to sit at the beach for hours, even if you don't get into the water. The unbrella gives you regular shade and there are waiters who come and serve you food and drink (you order and pay of course). I think we should do more of this!

Next, we took the little red train trip around town like we did on Rhodes. It was mainly a trip up to the Aesclepious Temple and then went around the city a bit, but we had seen most of what we went past. 

Then, as I promised, I went to get my feet "kissed" by little fish. Steve was going to leave me there to do it on my own while he went to look at rubble, but he decided it was too interesting and so stayed.  He took a few pictures including a selfie of him in front of a poster showing exactly what the "therapy" looks like. Here is an article from Wikipedia about the fish.
It says, 

"The use of the fish as a spa treatment for the wider public is still widely debated on grounds of efficacy and validity, as the treatment is not shown to have either positive or negative effects."  
I think that this is true of my experience. Nothing bad happened and I guess my feet feel a bit softer. The treatment felt sort of like the tingling you feel when you stand up and your foot is asleep.  

Finally it was time to catch our ferry again. We bought bread, cheese and salami at the store so that we could eat on the ferry. The time went by and we arrived at Patmos after midnight.

The Trip to Kos

We broke up the trip to Patmos by traveling to Kos for two nights. In Rhodes someone described Kos as a small Rhodes. There are similarities, but there were lots of differences as well. Both islands have medieval forts and the stone looks similar. There are squares "plateas" or plazas surrounded by restaurants and stores selling trinkets for travelers.

The first thing I noticed on Kos that was different was that there were LOTS of bicycles and really well defined bike paths. We arrived and walked to our hotel because there were no taxis! There is an airport on the island and a whole bunch of flights came in at the same time so there were only a few taxis to take people from the ferry to their hotels. Our hotel was not too far. After settling in a bit we found a place with Pizza and had dinner.

The hills in the distance are Turkey!
The thing that Kos does have that really interested Steve was lots of archaeological ruins.  One main one that everyone goes to visit is an Aesklepious temple that is up on a hill. We took a taxi up to see it. Aesklepious is the God of healing. People would come up to the site to offer sacrifies and sometimes even to stay for a while to get treatment for illnesses. The site was impressive and the views from the top were amazing. We could easily see Bodrum, Turkey! It is only 20 minutes away by boat and so at the dock below there were lots of boats that would take tourists on that trip. Bodrum has beautiful sand beaches. 

Other sites are all over the main town of Kos. Because we only stayed there for two nights we didn't see any other parts of the island. We walked down the hill from the Aesklepious Site and saw many things along the way. We even stopped to eat at a Turkish/Greek restaurant for lunch. It seemed pretty Greek, but there were some Turkish foods. We also saw lots of other ruins. Steve usually walked around and looked at them while I sat and waited. There were some wall paintings and murals that were pretty amazing. They were not as protected from the weather and vandalism as they should be I don't think. Steve said that there was not enough signage at the sites and so it was hard to make sense of the sites. I wonder if he was feeling what the rest of us always feel when looking at archaeological sites!  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


We only have a partial day here today because we are taking a ferry to Kos that leaves at 4. After a normal night’s sleep(!) we packed up our bags, left them at the desk and headed one more time for Old Rhodes. This time we wanted to visit the Palace of the Grand Masters. It is the main castle in the old city.  There were exhibits downstairs showing the long history of the area and on the second floor you could go through and see the actual castle rooms with the mosaics on the floor and some of the 

Rhodes has been inhabited for a LONG time. In that time it has been ruled by different people Turks, Italians, and Greeks are the main ones. My impression is that the largest influence on the island was from the Italians and the Greeks. It seems to me that there is an overall Greek influence no matter who ruled, but the centuries when the Italians ruled are the most obvious today. 

The Knights of St. John ruled the island from 1308 to about 1523. They built the City walls which got strengthened over time. As a Catholic order they started to serve in hospitals, but in time started fighting and at the time when they were in Rhodes were more warriers than healers. 

We decided to go back to our favorite restaurant, Ouzokafene, for a little lunch before leaving Rhodes. We had Souvlaki and Greek Salad. Then we walked back to our hotel and got a taxi that took us and our luggage to the Blue Star Ferry.

The Ferry is really fun. There are many different areas that you can sit in.  We decided to sit in an area that has a snack bar where they come and serve you. You sit on soft chairs. It takes about 3 hours to get to Kos. We have heard that Kos is basically like Rhodes, but smaller.  I will let you know in the next blog post!