Hard Jerusalem Street with Train Tracks

train tracks on Jerusalem street near central bus station
Jerusalem now has street cars that run through the city. This light rail train system was just being constructed when we visited the city five years ago. You can scroll down on this post of art in Israel to see how the train system was envisioned in a mural. Batya has written about the light rail system on her blog, and Sharon has a post on Real Jerusalem Streets on the day the light rail opened in 2011.

The photo above is near the central bus station in Jerusalem, taken in May 2013. My cousin told me there will soon be a fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that will stop near here – but unfortunately, it won’t go through Beit Shemesh, where my cousins live (they do have a slow train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that stops in Beit Shemesh). I have more photos of the light rail and section of Jerusalem near the central bus station as well as the Ben Yehudah mall. Hope to show you in an upcoming post.

Thursday Challenge is HARD (Stone, Steel, Cement, Glass, Durable, Difficult,…).

Ma’alot Israel Flowers and Birds

blue globe thistle
Not far from the home of my friend in Maalot Israel is a little forest. One can see flowers such as the blue globe thistle, Echinops adenocaulos – קיפודן מצוי.

Maalot View
Ma’alot is a city built on hill. My friend’s home has lovely views from her back deck and from the nearby forest. You can see there are lots of trees in the valleys and neighboring hills and villages on the far hills.

bird in Ma'alot
I have no idea what species is this big bird on a wire (a crow?). But he was bigger than the pigeons, sparrows or doves that I saw. All the birds I saw on my Israel trip were brown, gray or black – none were brightly colorful. I did look up a few birds from the Hula Valley and found some colorful ones shown.

In addition to featuring this buttercup on this Ma’alot Israel Flowers post, I saw buttercups on Mount Meron (Ranunculaceae, נורית).

queen anne's lace
I believe these large white bouquet-like flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace.

From the deck of my friend’s house, I could see sparrows, mourning doves and pigeons. I saw what may have been swallows flying above, but I wasn’t quite sure. Do you see the little sparrow in the large palm tree? I told my friend her back deck would be a lovely spot for birdwatching, and she offered for me to stay a few months to make my observations. Maybe one day I will take her up on her offer.

mourning dove in Ma'alot
Here is a mourning dove hanging out on some sort of gadget. I don’t see these often in New Jersey, but I have seen them a fair amount in Israel. On my trip to Israel five years ago, I believe I incorrectly identified this bird as a pigeon (it’s a mourning dove). I’ve learned a bit about birds since then – I hope to have the opportunity to learn more.

Jacaranda Trees with Purple Blooms

jacaranda tree in bloom in Nahariya, Israel

jacaranda tree in Naharia, Israel
When I was in Beit Shemesh, Israel, I saw some beautiful trees with purple blooms. I saw them again in Naharia, a northern beach town in the Galil. The jacaranda blooms above are in Naharia. Then I visited Ma’alot, and I was pleasantly surprised by yet more jacaranda blooms.

According to this Flowers in Israel post, jacaranda trees are originally from South America. Looks like the Hebrew name is סיגלון.

Derivation of the botanical name:
Jacaranda, a Brazilian vernacular name.
acutifolia, with pointed leaves.
mimosifolia, with leaves like genus Mimosa.

On the Wikipedia page for jacaranda it says: This article’s factual accuracy is disputed. I wonder why. See also: Jacaranda mimosifolia:

The Blue Jacaranda has been cultivated in almost every part of the world where there is no risk of frost; established trees can however tolerate brief spells of temperatures down to around −7°C (20°F). In the USA, 30 miles east of Los Angeles where winter temps can dip to 10 degrees F (-12 C) for short several-hour periods, the mature tree survives with little or no visible damage.

jacaranda tree blooms in Maalot Israel with Israeli flag below
This jacaranda tree (above and below) was photographed in Ma’alot, Israel. Ma’alot is about twenty minutes inland from Nahariya, Israel.

Blue Jacaranda in Maalot

The name may be Blue Jacaranda, but I think those blooms are purple. How about you? Do you think this is some botanist’s desire to see blue in nature?

Fast Day – Jerusalem Memories

Jerusalem window
Today is a fast day on the Jewish calendar: Shiva Assur B’Tammuz (the 17th Day of the Month of Tammuz). I have been planning to post some nature notes of jacandra tree blooms and other nature in the Galil, but that will wait until next week. Above is a photo I took when I was in Jerusalem last month. The photo (near the main bus station) shows an example of the mix of architecture in Jerusalem, although if you really want to see the old, old of Jerusalem, visit my post on the City of David. Other posts on Jerusalem: Jerusalem Day and Jerusalem in Ruins.

What happened on the 17th of Tammuz? According to this Chabad article, there were five tragic events on this day, but I will mention this one:

The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av.)

I’m going to re-post my watercolor from 2011 – you can learn more about its significance on the post Fox in Ruins.

fox in grayed background - fast day story

Sabra Plants – Prickly and Sweet

cactus sabra prickly on outside sweet on inside
This is no ordinary cactus – it is a sabra plant. We continued our journey up beyond the village of Meron and into an area above that had caves, rocks and flowers. I photographed this large green cactus, and my friend informed me that it is a sabra. Native born Israelis are referred to as sabras, because like the plant, they are supposed to be prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside.

sabra - prickly pear cactus
Here is the sabra flower up close. Known in English as a prickly pear cactus, on Wikipedia I learned:

Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) that are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures.

The Hebrew word for the cactus fig is tsabar, “similar to and derived from the Arabic ‘صبار ṣubbār’.” It is reportedly also used as fencing. Have you ever eaten a sabra fruit?

kalanit poppy
As this lovely little kalanit plant was growing near the sabra, I’m sharing it as well in this post. To see more of those red poppy anemones, visit my post on my hike on the Peak Trail of Mount Meron.

For more Nature Notes:

Nature Notes

Grave of Shimon Bar Yohai – Meiron, Israel

tree at Meiron with bands of good luck
The bands of cloth and plastic on this tree at Meiron seem to symbolize some kind of good luck.

Meron, Israel: or is it Meiron, Israel? In any case, for many, when you say Meron, one thinks of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai lived way back in first century of the common era. That was the period when the Galil first became famous. The middle part of Israel, where Jerusalem is located, was no longer a safe place for rabbis and other practicing Jews due to the growing strength of the Romans. So the Galil became home to many of these rabbis. My cousin (who has lived in the Galil for about forty years) once said, quoting someone else, what is there to visit in the Galil? Caves and graves. If you visit Meron, you can find both.

Do not visit the grave of Shimon Bar Yohai on Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer). Unless you like crowds. Of course, it was well after Lag B’Omer when my friend and I visited. The area itself wasn’t terribly crowded, but when you go inside the room with the tombs, there were quite a few people. And I’ve been told that the yeshiva in Meron closed down the week before Lag B’Omer, and security takes over the yeshiva. People camp out all over the area. But as I said, it was not Lag B’Omer, so when we decided to explore the area above the houses and buildings, we had the rocks, trees and flowers all to ourselves.

When you drive up to the village of Meron, there is lovely little shop on the right. The name of the store is something like shizeefon or little prune. And that’s what they sell! Oh, and all sorts of dried fruits and nuts, but the specialty is the prunes. I bought a nice gift to bring back to our hostess in Beit Shemesh.

building with tomb graves of Shimon Bar Yohai

Pictured above is the building that houses the grave. As it is at other religious sites in Israel, there are separate entrances for men and women. My friend suggested I prepare some change in case someone asks for money, and I gave all my change away to the first requester. It turns out there were several people here asking for money (by the way, if you go to the old city in Jerusalem, it is a good idea to have spare change available – lots of needy asking there as well. You can give U.S. money, if that’s what you happen to have). The biggest words on the sign say “In Modest Dress” – so I always bring a light cotton sweater to wear on top of my t-shirt. I wear skirts almost all the time anyway.

I didn’t take any photos inside the room with the tombs (his son Eleazer is buried here as well). I had to put away my persona as tourist and switch into religious mode – it seems what one does here is say tehillim or psalms. Others were praying Shaharit, the morning prayer.

I took photos of nature on our hike above the village, but I will save those for another post. You can visit my post of flora of Mount Meron. Meanwhile, if you have photos of Jewish subject matter on your blog, there will be an edition of JPiX, the Jewish Photo Bloggers Carnival, posted on this blog on June 30th. You can submit posts to JPiX using the form on the JPiX page.

entrance to grave Meiron Shimon Bar Yohai

Watching Birds in Beit Shemesh

pigeon in Beit Shemesh
I had fun looking out the window (and standing on the balcony) from the apartment where we stayed in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Beit Shemesh seems to be a combination of urban with rural. I heard roosters crying on my first morning in Israel – they were up at 4 am. Watching birds in Beit Shemesh is not as exciting as watching them in the Hula Valley or in Eilat, but I enjoyed the show.

sparrow on wood plank in Beit Shemesh
The sparrows don’t look that different than our sparrows in New Jersey.

pigeons on a roof
This photo of pigeons on a roof can give you a bit of an idea of how the urban buildings are right next to the rural countryside.

pigeon in flight in Beit Shemesh
Oooh, I got this pigeon in flight!

I got to see this etrog on a tree in my friend’s backyard. It’s too bad I didn’t have a chance to take photos from her balcony – she lives on top of a high hill in Beit Shemesh, so you can see all around from up high.

beit shemesh ramat
I think this is the edge of Ramat Beit Shemesh. There are several sections to the city – it’s grown a lot in the past twenty years.

urban beit shemesh - buildings
From this photo of apartment buildings, you can see what I mean by urban.

farm in beit shemesh
I believe this is where the roosters live, right outside Beit Shemesh in this farm.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Flora of Mount Meron, Israel

red anemone poppy
My friend who lives in the Galil took me on the peak trail of Mount Meron in the northern part of Israel last week. I was thrilled to be greeted with these red anemones aka poppy anemone, known in Hebrew as kalanit (singular poppy). I thought they bloomed earlier, but she explained that Meron is up high, so the poppies bloom in May. What a treat! There were plenty of flora of Mount Meron in bloom.

peak trail on Mount Meron
Here is a sign for the peak trail on Mount Meron. We parked toward the top of the mountain, then we hiked around the mountain.

mount meron
The views on Mount Meron are breathtaking. There was a bit of a haze, which my friend said is unusual. The skies are typically quite clear in late May.

yellow noorit flower on Mount Meron
I am guessing that these beautiful yellow flowers with insects on them are nurit (singular) in Hebrew – maybe ranunculus asiaticus in Latin. The English name might be asiatic buttercup.

I used this database to help identify the wildflowers:

yellow wildflower
A guess for this yellow flower: yellow pea or yellow vetch. See

yellow vetch
Here’s how those yellow flowers were growing, in a great yellow bunch.

thistle pink
Thistles of various types are common in Israel; I suppose they do well in dry, hot climates.

brown and white butterfly
A brown and white butterfly landed on this thistle.

flower with blue petals on Mount Meron
This aster-like flower with light blue petals I’m guessing is a chicory flower. See: cichorium endivia

Mount Meron view
I will finish up with another view from Mount Meron. Mount Meron is known for the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. We visited the tomb site and surrounding village – that is a topic for another post.

Traveling with an iPad in Israel

flowers in a pot in Beit Shemesh, Israel
flowers in a pot in Beit Shemesh, Israel – taken from balcony of an apartment
I just came back from a one week trip in Israel. After discussing various options for connecting on social media and keeping up with my email, I decided to bring my iPad mini on my trip. This post will examine where it worked and where it did not. In the comments, feel free to offer your own travel advice.

Connecting with the iPad in Israel

Originally, we were supposed to stay with my cousins most of the time. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, we stayed with a relative by marriage (who was an absolutely wonderful hostess). She had great wifi in her apartment, so when we came back after our busy days we were able to both re-connect and re-charge our iPads (I was traveling with my eldest son, and we both have iPads). The three prong adapter seemed to do the charging better than the two prong, so I would suggest buying a three prong adapter if you are traveling from the U.S. to Israel. I bought the adapter easily on Amazon. If you stay in a hotel, I would assume most of them will have great wifi available to guests. Verify before booking your place.

train station in Petach Tikva, Israel
train station in Petach Tikva

I loved traveling on trains in Israel. The wifi is free, although I discovered it is not very strong, and you may not have any if you sit in the “wrong” part of the train (is the corner not a good spot? I would need the locals to help with this). Even when I did get decent wifi on the train, it was not strong enough to upload a photo. So save your photo sharing for the strong wifi locations.

Tel-Aviv Art Museum: Yay, Tel Aviv! The art museum had its own wifi, so we were will able to look up the museum website for more information while viewing. The Israel Museum did not have this feature. I might write a post comparing the two museums in general. Both were wonderful. In general, the Tel Aviv municipality has approved a budget for free wifi in the city, in parks, main streets and commercial centers (coming soon in 2013?).

The Galil seems to have less options for free wifi than the central part of the country. This is not surprising, as the Galil is more rural.

You can sit on the Ben Yehudah mall in Jerusalem and depending where you sit, it is not hard to find free wifi. The Jerusalem bus station had enough wifi for me to load one Google map of Jerusalem unto my iPad, then it went away or asked for a password.

One friend I visited had computers but no wifi. I Googled connecting my iPad via her networked computer, but it didn’t seem so simple to do. One techie friend said I would probably have needed to add iTunes to her computer. I certainly didn’t have the right administrative privileges to do so, but the truth is, with guest privileges I could check email and Facebook, so what more did I need?

Ben-Gurion airport had free wifi while we waited to board (leaving Israel). When we got off the plane (arriving), we had none, but my cousin came right away so there really was no time, anyway.

Setting up your iPad for your trip

In some ways, my iPad was prepared properly. In other ways, I would have done things differently. I downloaded a few games that required no wifi for the plane ride. I got fairly good at Bejeweled Blitz on the plane – I don’t have the patience to read books on planes. I only got through a few pages of Jane Austen’s Emma (which I had downloaded for free in advance via Free Books app).

A big mistake I made in preparing my iPad for the trip was that I set up my email to work, but I only checked incoming mail and not outgoing. I couldn’t get the setup for outgoing mail in Israel for my regular mail, so I depended on my Gmail account. If you regularly use Gmail, just download the Gmail app in advance. I prefer to do work correspondence with my leoraw account; for future travel, I will make sure I have outgoing mail set up properly as well.

Facebook and Twitter on the iPad are easy: just download the apps in advance and make sure they work properly. I found it nice to take a few photos with iPad as I traveled. Then, when I had the chance, I shared one on Facebook and one on Google+. Most of my photos I took with my Canon Rebel. But I wasn’t planning to utilize those photos until after my trip was over – the ones on my Canon I will probably edit a bit before sharing.

On turning mail accounts on and off: I share the iPad with my daughter. I added my email accounts to the iPad a while back, checked them, and then turned them off. For the trip, I turned off her email account. Now that I am back, I should turn her email account back on and turn off my email accounts.

I actually bought a pocketbook for the trip in which my iPad mini fit exactly. So it was simple to carry it around – it even came with me on the hike on Mount Meron in the Galil. I have great photos of flora and of views from that hike. The famous red poppies were in bloom for me.

Planning the next trip

Although it may be a while before I go on my next international adventure, I am still thinking ahead to how I might plan differently next time. By the time I next travel, I suspect I will have a different smart phone. I will probably want to get some sort of SIM card for the smart phone so I can connect almost anywhere instead of searching for wifi. But the truth is, not being connected everywhere is not so terrible. It’s OK to just enjoy nature without needing to look on Facebook. If I don’t use my smartphone in Israel, I would spend more time getting a better Israeli phone for rental. The ones we rented I would not recommend.

What is your travel advice?

I am sure some of you have traveled more than I have. What have you found useful for connecting online? What questions would you advise to a traveler anticipating a trip?

Jerusalem Day 5771

In honor of Jerusalem, I am posting a few pictures from our 2008 trip:

path in old city

synagogue in the old city of Jerusalem
This is a synagogue that was destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948. Here it is, in the Old City of Jerusalem, being rebuilt. The original Hurva synagogue was built in the 18th century and destroyed by Muslims. As it lay in ruins for 140 years until being rebuilt in 1864, it became known as the Hurva, which means ruins.

migdal david
Migdal David (Tower of David) is now a fun historical museum by the Jaffa Gate. It wasn’t a museum when I first visited in 1980. You can see the winding tree sculpture on this photo of mine.

flowers in migdal david
These flowers are growing by the arch in Migdal David – you can see my photo of the arch here.

City of David ruins
If you think the “Old City” of Jerusalem is old – actually, it is new compared to the City of David. Pictured are excavations at the site. If you visit Jerusalem, I highly recommend a City of David tour.

For more Jerusalem Day posts:

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