As Richard selfies go…

… this new one on his Instagram isn’t half bad…

Source

Maybe it’s his blue eyes and the green shirt matching the beautiful setting in the sunshine so well?

Thank goodness we all downloaded that adorable picture from a few days ago, as it now doesn’t seem to be on Richard’s Instagram anymore! It was taken in, I think, around the same spot and with him wearing the same shirt. Now, why on earth would he decide to delete a sweet picture like that? Even Charlie Murphy, the actress with him in the picture liked it, so it could have been no offense to her…

Ah, the rollercoaster of Richard Armitage’s social media life remains a bit of a mystery…

The sea and the sunshine makes me long for our summer holiday that we have just planned this past week. It will be the first time in 21 years that Mr E and I will be spending it on our own! Junior will be heading to the south of France (possibly Marseille as well!) with a friend of his and mini me is staying at home to work and save up for her holiday to South Korea in the fall.

Mr Esther and I had been thinking of several options such as Scotland and Ireland but then someone mentioned Pompei, which is a huge dream of Mr E’s to visit. I want to see it too, although perhaps not in the same detail that Mr E plans on seeing it, so we’ll do part of that together and then when he goes into full out Pompei geek mode, I’ll go walk through Napels or find a relatively quiet beach spot to read. I researched and was able to find very afforable accommodation there during the summer high season and so we just went ahead and booked!

We decided on driving there, not flying, but it’s a looong drive (1850 km) and we’ve decided to take some time to get down there. We’ll be stopping in Germany and Austria and staying for a few days in the north of Italy on our way down. Then Pompei and surroundings for about 10 days before we head north again. On our way back it’ll be a little more north of Italy, then Switzerland, a day or two in France, a day in Belgium and then home again. 3 weeks and 2 days, accommodation in six countries is booked and I now can’t wait for mid-July to arrive.

Our highlights in Israel

In my two previous posts I wrote about going down memory lane during our recent trip to Israel. I don’t want to go on and on about our holiday, so I’ll try to condense the rest of what we did during our 9 days here into one post of highlights.

While we were there, we of course visited Jerusalem. The Old City houses markets in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim quarters and above the markets/soukh there is a whole second level of the Old City where you can walk as well. We had lunch in a rooftop restaurant with view on the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, we had coffee and home baked Käsekuchen in the courtyard of the German Lutheran church in the Christian quarter of the old city, we visited the hall where Jesus and his disciples were said to have held the last supper and we visited King David’s tomb. As a reminder that this wasn’t just another ‘regular’ beautiful historical city, we also saw evidence of more and more Jewish settlers trying to find a foothold in the Muslim quarter and more of a visible Israeli security presence as well, especially in the Muslim quarter near Damascus Gate. It was also unsettling to see Trump kippahs sold as souvenirs.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built over the sites where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried) is always fascinating to me…

We went to the Western Wall but couldn’t get close as everything was closed off for a commemoration on Remembrance Day and for Israeli Independence Day the next day. Lots of security was around. There is always a lot of security around the Western Wall but this was really a step up.

While we as tourists can move easily and freely and I felt perfectly safe and fine, the situation still felt more tense than I ever remember before. Despite that, the Old City remains such a beautiful place.

We also met with a friend of my brother’s for dinner one evening who is a teacher and an activist. We ate at a lovely little Arab restaurant just across the border on the West Bank in Beit Jala which was deemed ‘safe’ for Israeli cars (Area C, explained via link at the end of this post)…

One of our reasons for coming was the wedding of the son of a distant cousin of ours. The bride is from Jewish Yemenite heritage and two days before the wedding there was a Yemenite celebration (with henna) that we attended near Tel Aviv. I was encouraged to also dress up for a small portion of the festivities, to dance along for the bride…

We drove down to the desert, partially along the the Dead Sea…

… and made a quick stop to briefly visit Masada again…

…and then got to the location of the desert wedding, where we also stayed the night in little huts. The wedding was awesome and fun, with beautiful views over a large desert crater…

The next day my brother took a bus to the south, we dropped Junior off at the airport where he flew to Istanbul on his own for a few days (and now he’s in Barcelona for another few days) while Mr E and I headed to the north.

After the desert, the North was more lush and green. We stayed in the Galilee and toured there and in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. We also drove by a small portion of the ugly, depressing Berlin Wall-style wall between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. We skipped the Western coast sites of Tabgha (where Jesus multiplied loaves and fish to feed many people), the mount of the Beatitudes (from Jesus’ sermon on the mount fame) and Capernaum (where some of the apostles are said to have lived) because we’d been there several times before but we did stop in Ein Gev on the Eastern coast of the lake, which I don’t recall ever having gone to before and it turns out is ‘just’ a holiday resort.

We stopped by the south side of the Lake of Galilee where the Jordan River emerges and which is also the site where many Christians go for baptisms (like John the Baptist baptized Jesus)…

We also stopped by Tiberias and took a look at where my mother had worked for a year the year before she and my father were married. She worked in the Scots Hospice library at the time (the two smaller pictures below on the left, my parents are the couple on the left in the first picture) which is now The Scots Hotel (picture on the right).

We had dinner nearby there at the lake with this view…

We visited the city in Tzfat (or Tsefat or Safed, whichever spelling tickles your fancy) which is the highest city in Israel and also boasts a booming artists colony. And yes, we ate a very nice Pita Falafel there, which I had to include in the pictures.

Once, many years ago, my father picked out a piece of art for me when we were in Tzfat, which is now one of my most prized possessions precisely because he handpicked it for me. It is the whole Book of Esther written in tiny letters, fitting into the image of a woman with a wide dress. As Mr E and I walked through Tzfat we found that the artist and the gallery are still there and he still paints Queen Esthers. In the pictures below, the first Queen Esther is the one I own, the Queen Esther on the right is for sale in the artist’s shop.

We also drove through the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. It’s a very beautiful area, with lots of nature and cows in fields but right near all that there are also warnings of landmines which is quite shocking amongst all that beauty. We also passed by a deserted little mosque filled with bullet holes. It’s a stark reminder of the very difficult political situation in the Middle East.

Being in Israel again for the first time in nine years brought home to me how tense everything can feel there, especially in Jerusalem, with security everywhere, more military checkpoints or at least observation posts than I remember and a stronger than ever presence of Israeli flags literally everywhere. Nationalism feels stronger than ever there and the divide feels bigger than ever to me. During all our visits in earlier years we could quite easily go to Bethlehem on the West Bank and we intended on doing so again this time around but were told that Israeli cars driving in the West Bank are at risk and that they aren’t insured there. As we were using my older brother’s car (on a side note: he’s become an avid birdwatcher over the years, as evidenced by a sticker on his car), we didn’t want to risk anything happening to it, so we never went.

I never consciously remember having to worry whether we were in an A, B or C area in the West Bank and yet with this visit, it was made clear we did need to worry about that. It feels like the tensions are stronger than ever and no peace in sight. Very sobering thought. Despite all that we did have a good and very interesting time and I’m sure we’ll be back again in due course.

A childhood relived, part 2: the village

In my previous post I went on about the convent that used to almost be a second home to us kids when I was little. Now I will delve a little into the village of Ein Kerem where we lived.

Let me start with a picture of Mr E with a map of Ein Kerem that didn’t used to be there when I was small. He is pointing to the convent. If you head straight on to the right of his finger and then take a left into that little dead end street, that’s when you get to ‘our’ old house, situated in the open space beneath the drawing of trees, just a few meters (maybe 50) away from the convent.

There used to be a back path that connected the convent to our house, but it is completely overgrown now as you can see by the bushes to right of this picture below (the convent sold the house many years ago). Somewhere around there, in that spot between our house and the convent, a family picture of us was taken in 1980, a few months before we moved to Europe.

Walking up the little dead end street it is evident that things have become a little more polished since we left and there are also some extra buildings (partially hidden by trees now). There used to be this iron gate that fascinated me with a bicyle wheel in it and all sorts of other things but that gate is long gone now and replaced by a very standard wooden gate. Picture of my mother and grandmother on that street in the early 1970s and pictures taken last week:

The place where we used to park our car has now become a bona fide parking lot.

When you get to the end of that little road, you kind of think it stops there but it doesn’t. There is this little narrow path that you can follow and at the very end of it you can find ‘our’ red house. Here’s a picture of my younger siblings on that path (and me in the back) and pictures of what it looks like today…

Through the gate and trees, our red house is still standing and the fig tree that I used to like to climb is still there as well.

We didn’t ask to go in this time. I have been inside since we left a few times over the years (linking again to this post) and things are different from when we lived there, so it always hurts a little.

Turning back from our house, we walk back down the dead end street and then turn left, heading to the central part of the village. This view hasn’t really changed much over the years…

At the end the road bends to the right and then left and you cross the main street that runs through the village. After crossing you walk a though a little street and then to your left you find the church of John the Baptist. This village is said to be the village where he was born and grew up…

When you walk out the gate of the church courtyard, you walk into a small pedestrian shopping area. Now there are little tourist shops there. When we lived there, in a shop that now sells souvenirs and clothes and scarves, there used to be a shoemaker. He was a Holocaust survivor who had no legs anymore from the knees down. It was said that he had escaped a death train by jumping out and had lost his lower legs when the train ran over them. I used to measure myself against him, waiting for the day when I would be taller than he was. Just beyond the open door in the second picture there used to be a little post office where we had our P.O.Box and where I would often accompany my mother to pick up the mail.

At the end of the little pedestrian street you get to the main street again and just around the corner on the left there used to be a little grocery shop for basic necessities run by a bald man named David (pronounced Daveed). There’s still a little grocery shop there (and a restaurant now next to it). David always used to give us kids something when my mom came by to get bread and milk and fruit. He’d give us a little bit of pita bread or some fruit and he always had his pencil tucked behind one ear. I used to marvel at how that pencil stayed in place and never fell down!

Not far from this shop there is a wall of pictures from artists who have painted in Ein Kerem and one of those pictures actually features a painting of David, the grocer!

Speaking of painters, in the early 1970s my parents bought a painting by one of the local painters. That painting now hangs in my house…

Walking through Ein Kerem, we saw that the painter, called Yitzhak Greenfield, still lives there. We entered his gallery and when we (my brother and I) mentioned our surname and who we were he smiled and recalled my parents and even the painting he had sold them! He is 90 and still working…

Another personal encounter from the past that we had was with the German theologian and historian and his wife who moved into our house after we left in 1980. They lived there for 10 years and then moved elsewhere in Ein Kerem when the nuns sold the house. They still live there and my brother and I went over to their house for a coffee. The cool thing is that they still have our piano! We left that behind when we moved to Germany and when the German couple moved house, they took the piano with them. We know it’s our old piano because my mother had painted it blue back in the 1970s. It’s old and completely out of tune but it was so cool to see it again…

These are personal sightseeing highlights but there’s also one more official site to see for tourists. When you cross the main street from David’s little grocery store and walk on straight ahead for about a minute or two, you get to Mary’s Spring. According to tradition the Virgin Mary stopped here to drink every time she visited John the Baptist’s parents, the mother being her older cousin Elizabeth. Built over the spring is a small abandoned mosque, a reminder that this was once an Arab village…

I remember it being a bit more rundown when we lived there but it is a pretty sight now.

So, there you have it: a little impression of the village I spent the first 10 years of my life in. It was fun walking down memory lane like that. I promise that my next (and hopefully last) Israel holiday post will be more of an overview and not quite so detailed as these two ‘childhood relived’ posts have been. All in all, it was quite a magical place to grow up in.

A childhood relived, part 1: the convent

If you read here regularly you’ll know that I was born in Israel, in Jerusalem actually, and for the first 10 years of my life I lived there in a village just outside of Jerusalem. Ein Kerem is now a part of Jerusalem and has become a bit of an artists colony with some tourist shops and trendy restaurants that weren’t there when I was a child. On the whole it feels much busier now than it did when I was a child. I have just returned from another trip to Israel, it had been nine years since my last visit there and, just as with other visits, I retraced some of my childhood footsteps.

Our house was owned by and neighboured a convent and we as a family became good friends with the nuns there. We were always in and out of the place, there for events and parties, for socializing, sometimes a service in the chapel, and often to get cookies baked by Sister F in the kitchen or to get some eggs from the nun whose name I can’t remember but I can still vaguely picture her face. The convent has a guest house and one of the old nuns there was also there when I was a child. My younger brother (who has worked in Israel and still visits there a lot) is in contact with Sister C (who is 88) and arranged for a cheap rate in their normally quite expensive guesthouse rooms (hotel and guesthouses are pretty expensive in Israel!) and so we came to stay at ‘my’ convent, a place that is so familiar to me from my childhood.

I didn’t really remember Sister C’s name from when I was a child but as she opened that front gate to us when we arrived that first evening I instantly recognized her face. Such a sweet kind face! And she immediately smiled so widely when she saw me and said that I really resemble my mother. She has a point. The front gate area has been far more developed over the years. The first picture is a picture from my childhood, taken around the time I was born; the other pictures are of what it looks like today (click on images to enlarge)…

Mr E, Junior and I stayed in that convent for 4 days (my brother came two days later and shared Junior’s room) and it was pure bliss being back again. The view up to the main convent building from the entrance/reception area is still so familiar to me after all these years and the steps leading up to it were a bit of a playground when I was little. I remember running down the little slope beside the stairs and skipping up those stairs again only to return to that slope again and run down again as fast as I could.

The gardens have always been bliss. I already shared two pictures as I was reading in the garden there last week and here are some more. First off a selection of some of the beautiful flowers and plants they have…

The smell of pine trees in the summer still to this day brings me straight back to my childhood. More pictures from the gardens below. I remember sitting on those low walls as a child and in one of the old pictures you can even see me doing so when I was little…

Nowadays these nuns don’t wear habits anymore but ‘regular’ clothes. Sister C will be leaving the convent in Ein Kerem this summer and is returning to France (after 60 hears!) to a retirement home there. My mother had painted her a picture to hang on her wall that she was so pleased with. Together with her we also visited my brother’s grave, which I have written about before. While we were there she said she could still remember the funeral, of how heartbreaking it was and to add to the misery, that the rain was pouring down from the heavens that day.

Apparently visitors to the convent often ask about the child’s grave situated between the nuns and monks buried there and through that his story and a bit of the story of our family is still kept alive today. In fact, I was at the grave alone one morning last week when I happened on an Ein Kerem tourguide telling a couple that she was showing around about the “Hollandit” Christian family that had lived here. I introduced myself and she was so very pleased to meet me. She had also met my younger brother at the same spot some years ago and he had at the time told her the story of our family, which is how she knew it now and could tell others.

That little cemetery and the path to it are so idyllic…

At the beginning to the path of the cemetery there is also a lovely area with olive trees and a great view over the valley…

Also the buildings have special memories, like that main building, that arched gallery and the chapel where my younger siblings and I were baptized. The wide green double door is the entrance to the kitchen and dining area. We were allowed in that hallway when we picked up our cookies and the inside of the door, looking out, still reminds me of chatting with the nuns there. In this set of pictures there is also a picture of our room. The nuns used to live in these rooms so we never really saw them from the inside much when I was little (except the nun’s room where my brother used to practice the piano). That stone floor was the same kind of floor I used to have in my own bedroom in our house, it felt familiar walking barefoot on it.

The chapel inside is a little different now in some details but not too much. The benches are I think still the same ones as during our time there over 40 years ago…

And a picture taken outside the chapel door next to a grainy picture of me on the same spot when I was three…

The city of Jerusalem is so busy (and complicated) and this convent is a perfectly idyllic place to retreat to.

This got way longer than I intended. Next up a little tour through the village of Ein Kerem…

A winter’s morning

In our family chat, pictures arrived from my aunt and my niece of the beautiful winter morning they were seeing on this second day of winter…

Mr E had to be up early as well and shared his view from our bedroom window, with a pinkish sky. After he left, the curtains were still open and from my bed I saw the morning sun peeping through the trees into my window. I just had to get up and take a picture as well…

After I admired the morning light for a little bit, I went back to bed, crawled back under the covers and napped for another hour. I usually get a little extra nap in on Wednesday mornings as it’s my normal day off but this morning it felt extra good as today is also the beginning of my Christmas holiday! I’ll be off work for two weeks. I have my volunteer work to do this afternoon and after that all this time stretched out ahead of me. It’s a good feeling.