Archive | August, 2011

50 Shekel Cover?!

29 Aug

So this past weekend I finally was able to visit Tel Aviv. Now for those of you who don’t know the different cultures between cities, Tel Aviv is the closest thing to New York that Israel has. It is known as the city that never stops, needless to say it was a fun, eventful weekend. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay one night but you better bet your bottom dollar that I will be going back very soon.

We arrived around 12 o clock on Friday in Jaffa. Jaffa is considered to be one of the Old Cities (which basically means it has been there since ancient times) and it was absolutely gorgeous; filled with beautiful flowers and trees and right on the edge of the water. In my photos you can see the view from a hill which overlooks Tel Aviv. I won’t go into too many details but it was very insightful to learn more about Israel from many, many years back. And after a short tour, we walked into Tel Aviv (about a 15 minute walk away and checked into a hostel about 3 minutes from the beach. I shared a room with two friends from the program, a girl from Australia (who talked like Ja’may from Summer Heights High, it was hilarious), a girl from Canada, and a girl from I have no idea because she spoke two words the whole time we were there. It was an experience like no other. As someone who has never been out of the country, I had never experienced a real hostel. Before coming, I thought a hostel was something like a small, dimly lit room in which you get pick-pocketed if you don’t have your wallet right next to you. I have NO idea where I got that image from, but I was very surprised at what it was actually like. We had a beautiful porch over looking the streets of Tel Aviv, and no door is locked. In some ways it is like one big family while you are staying there. Of course, there were lockers to put valuables in, but for some reason, you get this feeling like you are safe from crime (something that is hard to achieve if you were to stay in a hostel in let’s sayyyy New York City). Most of the guests are young adults and there was a lounge, kitchen (in which you wrote your name on your food), computer area, showers, and a pool table. At night, some guests went on the roof top, myself included, and I met some really cool people. There were Australian, Canadian, European, and of course American.

Once we were settled in, we decided to shop around (but only until 4:30 because at that point most shops were closed for Shabbat). I witnessed something that had been described to me many times by my parents but did not do it justice until I saw it. On one of the main streets, we entered something like a flea market where it was stand after stand for almost (it seemed like) half a mile. Israelis were selling EVERYTHING from fruit to sunglasses to delicious candies (some of which I had to taste…) to beautiful jewelry. And they had these fruit stands where every type of fresh fruit was laid out and you decided which you wanted in a drink. Then, they grinded it up and Voila! Some delicious freshly squeeze orange juice or carrot juice. Along with that, they had this drink that was like lemonade with herbs and delicious naturals things in it that was only 3 shekels!! which is like 50 cents. Needless to say, we had a good time shopping around.

At night, we decided to go big and hit the port. It is about a 10 minutes taxi drive to some of the biggest clubs in Tel Aviv. Soon enough, we entered a long line of people waiting to get in, somehow (I have NO IDEA how this next part happened) we were at the front of the line. We were then asked to pay 50 shekels each (AKA 20 bucks) to get in. Again, somehow, one of the guys from our program sweet talked his way into getting us ALL in for free (about 10 of us). How this happened you ask?! no idea. But, I can tell you it was a fun night! The club was huge with two bars and vines hanging from the ceiling (and a great DJ!). And I quickly learned why Tel Aviv is known as the city that never stops.

Once again, I witnessed a totally different culture in which trends are very important, bars are on every corner, and the beach seems a little like paradise (it is just like the Caribbean waters for those of you who have been there.) Of course, Tel Aviv is not the city for me. The prices were WAY higher (just as if you were to go from MD to NY) and I don’t think studying would be possible in a city like that (not to mention the humidity did horrible things to my hair!) But it is definitely something that I plan on visiting often (only an hour and a half away from Be’er Sheva.)

And before this whole experience, I was fortunate enough to visit a place called Ayalon Institute in Rehovot. Now there are many, MANY interesting things I learned from this place, but to save you from reading for days, I’ll give the general overview. It was a tour of a Kibbutz from before 1948. Before this time, Israelis were very low in number, and anyone seen with any sort of weapon for defense had the penalty of being hung. So, in their struggle for freedom, they realized that there was no way for this to happen unless they had more bullets. So a small group established an underground factory. And in THREE WEEKS, did you read that right?! Yes you did. THREE WEEKS, they created this factory in which a Kibbutz was the cover. On one side of the factory a bakery was created (not just for profit but to mask the smell of the gun powder). On the other, a laundry room was built in order to hide the noise. Of course, how many times can you wash the same clothes over again just to run the thing all day? So, these amazing people thought, “what is we make a business out of it and take the clothes from the surrounding areas?” So, along with this disguise comes profit. And not every one is able to work in this factory, because how weird would it look to enter a Kibbutz and see no people? So, they had these people called “giraffes” (which got it’s name from the animal in which it sees all except for right what is under it’s feet). These people had NO idea what was actually going on, and never found out. They thought of everything, from the secret passage in which they had three minutes to exit in order to meet everyone for lunch (because everyone in a Kibbutz has to eat together) to the UV Rays they were lacking from being underground (so they created a heat lamp!). They even did test shooting underground which you can see in the pictures (which is VERY dangerous). By the end of the two years in which the factory wasn’t need anymore (because Israel was now an established state, yayyy!) something crazy like 2 million bullets were created. So much for making that short…oops!

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Needless to say, it was a great weekend in which  I learned SO much more about Israel and got to explore just a small new piece of what it has to offer.  Enjoy the pictures!

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The clearest night and the freshest air

25 Aug

For some reason, I was dreading this post just because it has been such a long week. Last everyone heard, I told you about my first rocket experience, and at this point, the rockets have been kiiiinda a regular thing. Last weekend was pretty relaxing, except for the LONGGGG hike we went on. It was a bit too much for me, but I got some really cool pics of this water hole we visited in the middle of the desert and I got some great exercise =).

When we got back, there was atleast one siren a day, and on Saturday there were three rockets in one day. Sunday morning came, we woke up bright and early for Ulpan, and every hour for three hours, there were rockets. The directors of the program decided they had enough and took us to Sde Boker. This is another part of the campus, but it is 45 minutes in the opposite direction of Gaza. It’s actually were I went for the hike and also the same place as Ben Gurion’s tomb. It is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous and peaceful so we didn’t mind (and the free breakfast wasn’t bad either!). Never have a seen stars so bright as I did on the edge of the mountains. Of course, I was unfortunate enough to witness no shooting stars while one of my friends saw 6….typical. But there is nothing like it. One morning we woke up to watch the sunrise which was breathtaking, and I was lucky enough to take some great pics (although they don’t do it justice.) All together it was a great trip, but I’m happy to be back and get into a regular schedule. There has been two attacks since I’ve been back (even though apparently we are back to a cease fire…awesome Gaza.) But don’t worry, a majority of these attacks have been shot down by something called the Iron Dome. In a nut shell, it was created to counteract the rocket in air, so it never lands (made by Israel and Amuuurica =) and it’s pretty awesome).

Ulpan has been pretty hard this week because as soon as we moved to Sde Boker (where our teachers drove every morning to meet us) my teacher got sick. So I have gone through two different teachers this week, and it’s pretty hard to be taught by someone else who has different methods when you are taking such an intensive course. Still, I’ve improved and am getting better each day.

I apologize for the lack of enthusiasm in this post. I’ve started to realize that not every day is going to be something new and exciting, but that’s exactly what is going to make this feel like a second home to me. But don’t you worry, because bright and early tomorrow morning we are heading to Tel Aviv which is the city that doesn’t sleep. I’m hoping to come home with a few stories and some interesting pictures from that! Enjoy some of these pics from Sde Boker (the pictures that look like tents are from a Bedouin group that lives there, in the middle of the Negev) and GOOD LUCK with hurricane Irene. But don’t worry about updating me on it, I get all the full updates from every one of your facebook status’. YALLABYE!

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Cat straight CHILLIN’ on a dumpster.

18 Aug

I wanted to wait to make another post until after this weekend, but I figured I’ll probably have too much to say by then! Yes, it is the weekend for me. I’m still grasping the idea that it starts on a Thursday. Anyways, i’ve really settled in and become comfortable with my apartment and the campus. And by that, I mean … I don’t feel awkward making pasta in the kitchen and I actually know how to get to Ulpan in the morning 🙂 and GUESS WHAT?! I found a BOMB sushi place that isn’t that far which was a small victory for me.

Ulpan is … going. At first it was all very exciting because we are learning the ABC’s and when we would be able to spell at word out like … PI-ZZA, there was an applause throughout the room, but now we are learning feminine, masculine, and many many verbs. It’s challenging but I find myself able to understand daily conversations between Israeli’s more and more which is AWESOME. Because anyone that has gone to a foreign speaking country knows that it absolutely sucks not being able to read menus or argue with the taxi driver because you just know they are ripping you off. And what is great about the class is that it’s not like i’m doing this to find the easy way out in class just to get an A, the purpose is to actually learn for my own benefit. Kinda makes me realize what college is actually all about … oops.

Anyhoo, let me tell you all about our adventure the other night. So a bunch of us decide to go to this house party that we are invited to … because you know, everyone loves the foreign kids, and a very very interesting thing happened. Now I was very hesitant to write about this because everyone knows that if you aren’t knowledgeable about Israel, you will think … get out of there NOW!! But I figured throughout this whole blogging schpeal, I could kill 2 birds with 1 stone and sprinkle some knowledge on your souls. So at around 11 PM, I was talking to a very nice Israeli gentleman I met (who by the way spoke perfect english!) and suddenly a siren went off. And of course, me being the underage college student that I am, ask this nice gentleman, is that the cops?! Of course he laughs and says “hmm the warning is usually louder than that. No, that is the warning siren, a rocket is coming.” After that statement, I look around me to see everyone calming scattering to the walls (oh by the way we were outside, surrounded by a cement wall, really cool party though, DJ and bartender and the whole deal!). So, immediately I look at him for more information and slash or direction of what exactly to do. He just says, just keep calm…soon you will hear the rocket land and it will be over. So, the whole party is silent and we just wait … eventually we heard not one but two bangs … everyone clapped, and it’s safe to say the party ended after that (atleast for me, some folks hit up the bars!). I asked him about it after and if it ever freaks him out and he just said, “it’s hard to relate because we are so used to it. You know, it comes, and there is nothing we can do. If you die, you’re going to die.” And I strangely understood completely what he meant. They are living there either way, and why choose to live your life in fear? People die from things every day. But just to keep your minds at ease, the rockets landed in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t some sort of daily occurrence, but it does happen (not since March though!). Oh and the rockets came from Gaza, I think like 20 something miles away? And he told me about the last time the rockets hit. Funny story. He said the sirens went off, they were waiting, and he said some people could see it in the sky, and you see the Gaza rocket then the Israeli rocket hit it directly to stop it. Needless to say, people cheered. Patriotism at it’s best. (Although don’t quote me on that story, my memory is a little fuzzy … ).

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we are heading for a hike to Avdat Park and I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it =) I have just a few pictures of a night we went out, a cat straight CHILLIN on a dumpster, a picture of a picture of this girl who looks EXACTLY like my friend Corinne (hayyy gurl.) And only family will get the book picture … I found it at this little coffee shop that sells book, crazy!!

Anyways, I’ll have a lot more pictures soon I hope!

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Oh ps a burger, fries, and a drink from McDonald’s here is atleast 35 shekels, AKA 10 dollars. WTF?!?

P.P.S. – I’m craving Chipotle like no other.

Learning the alef-bet

12 Aug

So this past week has been crazy because i’m trying to get into the routine of things and create a schedule. I started Ulpan on Sunday (I know it’s so weird to hear a work week starting on Sunday, definitely something to get used to!) And it was a HUGE wake-up call. Of course i’m starting out at the lowest level (alef AKA a in the alphabet) along with a majority of the students in my program. And I never thought the pace of learning would go so quickly. We went through the alphabet in 3 days along with learning vowels and then taking away the vowels. Of course, I’m still learning the alphabet because we have to know the cursive symbol which you write with and the print symbol which you read with. I can honestly say I haven’t studied this hard for something in a while haha, which is sad but at the same time, i’m studying so hard because I really want to learn it.

It’s totally weird being in a city where you have no idea where the nearest market or coffee shop is. There are buses that take you everywhere, but not knowing the bus system yet kinda leaves you helpless. Of course each day I learn more and it is only helping me learn the language and culture quicker. Today, I few of us decided to try and find  a breakfast place, and after 30 minutes of walking in every direction from campus, we took a taxi to a restaurant, then proceeded to pay an extra 14 shekels each for a salad that was put on our table haha but as our waitressed explained to us, to the Israelis, nothing is free (although we did get a free dessert out of it!).

Yesterday we took this amazing trip to Ben Gurion’s Heritage Institute (and for those of you who don’t know, Ben Gurion was the first prime minister of Israel). and it is right on the edge of these beautiful mountains in the desert. In the pictures you can see two tombs, one of which was for Ben Gurion and the other was for his wife. The view was breathtaking and I don’t remember the last time I had been in such a peaceful silence (along with the type of breeze that makes you never want to go inside). It’s something that I can describe, but it just won’t do it justice. We made a Poike dinner which is basically a mixture of chicken, veggies, rice, and potatoes put in a pot which is then put directly into a fire. It’s drizzled with honey and beer along with other good stuff and tasted deliciousss when it was done. Then we went on a full moon hike which was unlike any kind of hike I had ever gone on before. We were on a path along with mountains and the only light was from the moon (although the fact that there were leopards, hyenas, snakes hidden in the mountains wasn’t too comforting). I was exhausted by the end of the day, but the experience was like no other.

When people asked me why I was going to Israel out of all the countries I could have studied in, it was hard to answer because all I had was explanations from family members who have been there. But I really can’t imagine being anywhere else. The people I have met, the cultures I have already learned so much about, and the places I never knew could exist have already made this so worth while. 

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Enjoy some of the pics, and I promise to put my face in some of the next ones =)

First off I’d like to say shalom.

9 Aug

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The trip so far has been unbelievable. Going into this experience, I had only heard stories about this country, and it exceeds every expectation. Of course, like I have been told many times, I’m probably still in the “honeymoon” stages of studying abroad.

Everyday has been a sunny one, and every night there has been a cool breeze making it hard not to stay outside all night. Of course there has not been a drop of rain, but that also means I’ve been chugging water like it’s my job (the Israelis are very insistent on this aspect of living). Speaking of water, instead of a 24 pack, most stores sell 6 two liter bottles of water which are HUGE, but great to take on trips.

The “dorms” here are more like apartments, set up right next to campus with 4 bedrooms and 1 bathroom in each. And can I just vent for a second by saying that taking a shower is one of the hardest things I’ve done so far. The Israelis may be very smart in a lot of things they do, but NOT at designing showers. After each one, I take a weegy (which is obviously already in the apartment), and I push the water down the drain since the whole bathroom is flooded. The wall between the shower and the bathroom floor is a 1/2 inch stub. Needless to say, it sucks.

My roommates are so cool, the first one I met on my second night here is from Ukraine, and she moved here when she was 16 years old! The second one is from Germany and she comes with a group of 60 Germans who came to study Ulpan (although she has already taken a year intensive course so she is basically fluent…COOL.) And the third is an Israeli who speaks almost no Hebrew, needless to say, communication around the apartment includes a LOT of hand gestures. What I found amazing was that every night so far, at least one roommate has prepared a huge meal for everyone to eat for dinner (and when I say huge I mean cutting up veggies, using a crock pot, and making a cake). Something that NO college student back home does on a regular basis. But, that is one thing that makes Israel so amazing. They emphasize family, and it really keeps the country as a whole so strong.

That reminds me of going to Jerusalem for the weekend. After celebrating Shabbat, going to some realllly cool bars, and spending hours talking to my group, we went to the Western Wall which was not only an experience in itself, but on the two hour tour there, we past different areas of culture and religion, and although they all seemed so different, they were always with family, whether they were selling food on the streets, jewelry in the markets, or praying at the wall.

On our first night in Jerusalem, we started at a hookah bar which was soo different than American bars. Everyone sits down either on a long couch facing each other or chairs, and smokes the hookah and/or drinks. At first I was a little skeptical, but it turned out to be an AMAZING night. What i’ve noticed is socializing is a hugeee part of going out, rather than the drinking aspect of it. Of course, we ended up at a club in which we entered a section that included almost no one at the beginning, and by the end, we had formed a dance circle that took up the whole room.

Speaking of this “we”, my group could not be any better. We come from all different countries including Argentina, Sweden, Norway, France, Canada and of course America, but we all have the same mission of learning this new language and exploring the culture. Everyone is so accepting of each other and we all have way too much fun together. I could go on for hours talking about every aspect of the trip so far, but that might take days. I really just want everyone who wants to stay updated with my life here. So enjoy! and hopefully I can write pretty often.

The pictures are from an amphitheater from the Roman times, view from a high point in Jerusalem, these man made caves from the Roman times that the Israelis are just now digging up, and of course a few from our first night out 🙂

PS- did I mention we have a huge pool across the street from us?! Yeah that’s pretty nice on a hot, dry day 🙂