Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years party in Utrecht

New Years Eve! We went back to Ruth and Sander in Utrecht, who threw a combined New Years-party and housewarming party. Our mutual friends Nienke and Marten was also there. Together, we cooked Spanish tapas (I made albondigas – spicy meatballs in tomato sauce, and Femke made a lovely tortilla). Great food. At midnight, it was time for champagne and lots of fireworks. The neighbors had some serious large caliber-stuff, but Ruth also had a stockpile of crackers and rockets.

The rest of the night we danced and danced and danced. But somewhere after three in the morning, we ran out of energy and went to bed. A great party!

Femke and her lovely tortilla

Dancing all night

Femke throwing firecrackers

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Friends in Utrecht

Having so little holiday, (Femke only has 13 days a year at the moment), it is hard to find time to see all friends and the family when you make it to Europe. But today, we managed to go to Utrecht to meet Ruth (a very old friend of Femke) and her boyfriend Sander. They just finished renovating their new house, and what a beauty it is.

In Ruth's and Sander's new house

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Haarlem and dinner

For the first time since we left the Middle East, we saw the sun today. Hooray! Together with Femke’s mother, we went to Haarlem, a beautiful Dutch city. While the girls looked at clothing, I bought matured Dutch cheese to bring back to Jerusalem, then found myself a great little bar called Taverne de Waag (in a house from 1597). Reading an international travel magazine and sipping on Belgian beer, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and realized that it is these kind of simple pleasures I miss in the Middle East. You simply do not find the same kind of quiet and relaxed atmosphere, not to mention the nice beers and the ham, cheese and salami I had on the side.

Later on, Femke and her mother joined me together with Mirthe, a friend of Femke’s from secondary school.

In the evening, we took Femke’s parents out for dinner at a restaurant in Uitgeest, the village outside Amsterdam where they live. I had a lovely hare fillet in red wine sauce and Femke enjoyed a butter-fried sole. Mmm.

The café

Femke and Mirthe

Friday, December 28, 2007

Beach, grandparents and birthday

Femke’s mother had her birthday today. Congratulations! We went to the beach at Wijk aan Zee for a walk in the strong winds. Here, several men were sailing land yachts – think windsurfing on land with three-wheeled vehicles and you get an idea. Afterwards, we ate some warming food (including bitterballes) at a seaside restaurant.

In the afternoon, Femke and me went to visit her grandparents in their home in Noord Scharwoude . It is always nice to see them, and although her grand father picked up some English during the war (WWII, from British pilots shot down over the Netherlands), it is a good time for me to try out the little Dutch I know.

In the evening, Femke’s mother had friends and relatives over for dinner and a drink.

Femke, Pin (her mother), Marjo (her sister)
and Jelle (her father), all at the beach

A land yacht

Femke with her grand parents

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back in the Netherlands

Today, we went up ridicously early to catch a plane from Copenhagen to Amsterdam. We always divide the Christmas holidays between Sweden and the Netherlands, where we have our families. So now, it was time to enjoy the company of Femke’s parents. To our great joy, Femke’s mother cooked boerenkool stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish with potatoes, cabbage and smoked sausage. Delicious!

One of Femke's parents two cats

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sales, fika and dinner

26 of December is traditionally the day when the big sales starts in Sweden. Femke and me where out early to find her a nice winter jacket (my Christmas gift to her) and me lots of clothes, including a nice shirt (her Christmas gift to me). Unfortunately, most of the things we bought were not on sale, but we still had to fight the crowds and look for sizes that often were sold out. Nevertheless, we had a successful shopping day. It is hard to find good looking and good quality clothes in Israel/Palestine, so whenever we are in Europe together, we try to stock up.

After the shopping, we had a fika with Marcus and his wife Helena. Marcus is an old friend of mine from school and university. This was also the first time we met their little baby-girl Anna-Livia, less than one year old.

In the evening, we had a great dinner at Mrs. Brown (a restaurant at Davidhalls torg in Malmö) with Lucas and Lotta, then had a drink with them and Bonen at the bar Brogatan. I had a lovely sole and Femke ate pheasant. As a starter we had scallops. Yummy!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Beer in Malmö

Today, we took the train to Malmö to see some of my friends. Lucas and Lotta (who visited us in Jerusalem this autumn), invited us to stay in their home, and so we did. We also had a nice dinner there, and then went out for some beers at Möllevången with Bonen (who also visited us this autumn) and Micke, an old friend and colleague. Great fun!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa is coming

Christmas eve (which is when Christmas is celebrated in Sweden), we had a traditional buffet dinner at my mothers place, with lots and lots of food, including pickled herring, gravid lax (a salmon dish), smoked salmon, boiled eggs with caviar, pâté, Christmas ham with different mustards, meatballs, sausages, red cabbage and brown cabbage, rice and milk porridge, home made Christmas candy and lots more.

As you understand, Christmas the Swedish way is a lot about food. To the food you drink snaps (aquavit, a kind of vodka spiced with different herbs) and beer. Before dinner you have glögg, which is a sweeter Swedish version of glühwein (hot spiced wine) and after the dinner we had champagne.
We also give gifts to each other, and even my sister’s dog got some (of the edible kind - very popular).

Some of the cold dishes

Max the dog checking out one of his gifts

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Checking out Kalmar

Today, we started early with a nice traditional Swedish breakfast at the hotel, before driving to the historical coastal town of Kalmar. Some shopping, a great fika in a really cozy old-style café and a surprising run-into with Susann, a Swedish friend from Jerusalem. The world is indeed small!

Nice café

The ancient castle in Kalmar

A frozen lake on the way home

Friday, December 21, 2007

Glass blowing in Småland

Yesterday morning, we flew to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to have lunch with Femke’s mother. Femke also managed to do some shopping (surprise!), before it was time to fly North to Sweden. We slept in Tyringe (where my Mother lives) and this morning continued to Småland. Lot’s of forest, with trees covered in ice, frozen lakes and in general a beautiful winter landscape. What a contrast to Jericho the other day!

In Småland, we stopped for a fika in Växjö, then visited the famous glass factory in Kosta, where they hand blow the famous art glass of KostaBoda. Unfortunately, they stopped blowing glass just a few hours before we arrived, but we enjoyed the exhibition of beautiful art glass. To see the glass being produced, we drove 15 minutes further to Åfors Glasbruk, where the glass ovens where glowing hot and the blowers busy. It is such a treat to see craftsmen (and craftswomen) like this, creating masterpieces out of melted sand.

Outside, I couldn’t help but to try out my new camera (Nikon D300) on the stream passing the factory. I still have a lot of tweaking and practicing to do before being one with the D300, but it is a great piece of equipment.

Now, we drove back to Kosta to check out the Christmas market. We had nice sausages grilled over open fire and in general marveled at the beautiful light decorations that were set up everywhere, including the frosty trees.

In the evening, we drove to the little city of Nybro, checked in at a hotel and then went for “hyttsill” – a traditional meal inside a glass factory. Being Christmas time, they had a tasty Christmas buffet that we devoured together with snaps (traditionally spiced vodka called akvavit). There was a lot of people, and all joined in, singing the snaps-songs that goes with the tradition. Afterwards, they had a rather provincial (but still somewhat funny) Christmas show.

My Mother Christine and Femke, having a fika in Växjö

Frozen lake in Småland

The stream outside Åfors Glasbruk

The stream outside Åfors Glasbruk

Glass art from KostaBoda

Glass blowing at Åfors Glasbruk

Light decorations at the Christmas market in Kosta

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Sun and strawberries in Jericho

The oasis of Jericho

Hisham's Palace in Jericho

Yesterday, I drove down to Jericho together with Liz, my new boss in Washington. It is such a bless to come down to this desert oasis situated more than 200 meter below sea level in the Jordan Valley. Here, there is summer year round. The Palestinian farmers in the area grow bananas, oranges, lemon and vegetables. I also bought fresh strawberries. Imagine – in mid December!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New bosses and successful glögg party

Sara, Michelle, Aida, Liz and Wakako chatting away

Ruby and Femke dancing to the Turkish "kiss" song

Surprisingly, it was nice to come back to Jerusalem from India. We have a beautiful home, and home is always home, wherever it is. This week has also been exciting work wise – ANERA finally has a new Middle East Representative (read: big boss in the field) and he arrived to the region this week. With him came the new Communications Director, who is base in Washington and is my boss. She has been working for ANERA for a few months, but this was the first chance for me to meet her.
They started off in Lebanon, then came to Jordan for a regional meeting (that Femke attended when I was still in India). This Friday, they arrived to Jerusalem. So far so good – I have a good hope that we can work well together. Liz, the media boss, came over to our place Friday afternoon for some work. She stayed for dinner and we had a nice time.

Yesterday, we had our Swedish glögg party. The first guests arrived at eight, and soon we had a full house with close to 30 persons (and more than ten nationalities) mingling, chatting and sipping glögg. It is such a pleasant thing to have your house full of friends and colleagues. In the end, some of us danced to the wee hours, and when Femke and I dealt with the worst mess and gone to bed, it was 02.30. Sorry Jenny (our neighbor), for playing loud music late! Luckily, she was also at the party, although she did not stay until the end.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hypoxia 3-2007 is out

Forgot to mention that while I was in India, my third issue of the Swedish paragliding magazine Hypoxia came out. Feels good.

Now, I am working with the next issue, due to be published 25 February.

Major update to my travel site

Just made a major update to my travel website, with lots of photos from around the world. Why not take a look here?

Tonight Femke is coming home from here meeting in Jordan, I miss her so, we have not seen each other for close to three weeks.

View over Elbe, between Dresden and the Czech Republic

Sunflowers at Amerzee, outside Munich

Night in Berlin

Delicatessen in Bologna

The Danube gently floating through Budapest

Beautiful landscape in Norway

An alligator I happened to swim into in a river in Florida

Manhattan, New York City, from the sea

Orange Revolution, Ukraine

Monday, December 10, 2007

Back in Jerusalem

Puh. That was a long journey. I started from Kamsheet yesterday at eleven in the evening. First a private transfer to the airport in Mumbai – a three-hour hell-ride with several near collisions and a portion of driving against the traffic on the wrong side of the road in Mumbai. Scary stuff.

Then waiting for hours at Mumbai airport, boarding the plane for an almost six hour long flight, more hours of waiting in Istanbul and finally the last flight back to the Middle East. After more waiting at Tel Aviv airport, I caught a transfer to Jerusalem. And now I am home! It is a much harder life being a travel journalist than most people would ever imagine.

Tomorrow morning there will be lots of photos from India here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Photos from India on my web page

If everything works out, you will be able to check out some photos from my India trip here.
I will stay here for another week, and then some, but this is what I gathered so far. Some of the photos have not been adjusted yet and most of them have no captions.

that will come later.

A very small cross country flight, and an exciting return

This is where I started

this is where I landed. with the welcoming committee :-)

Kukaram gave me the first lift

This is my second lift. Great guy!
Two days ago, I did a small cross country flight. I took off from Tower Hill, where we fly everyday when in the Kamsheet area. After gaining some good height (close to 900 meter above take off) I turned north and headed for Fly Nirvana, the paragliding center where we stayed. It is approx eleven kilometers between the take off and the center.

At first, I did really well, and reached another mountain, where I could join a thermal and top up with some more height. But after that, I hit some really heavy sink and lost most of my height very fast. Soon, I realized that I would not be able to make it all the way to the center, and started to look for a place to land. A field nect to a little hamlet seemed a good choice.

While circling down, preparing for landing, the field turned into a hill. Still not to steep, so I should be able to use it anyway. Kids where running in from all directions - a sight that reminded me of the final scene in the film "Platoon".

I survived the landing and started to pack up my glider. The kids stared with big eyes. We did not have a common language, but smiles and sign language can take you far enough.
The children's eyes grew even bigger when my huge glider (it is 29 m2 big) disappeared into my backpack. 15 minutes after landing with some kind of airship, I had it packed away and on my back, strolling away. No wonder they were amazed. It reminds me of a cocoon, slowly transforming to a butterfly, but this is in reverse and a lot quicker.

It was still before lunch, so I decided to try to hitchhike back to the take off and have some more flying. First I walked through the sugar cane fields on small paths. Here and there, I met people that were all surprised to see me there - a foreigner with a huge backpack in the middle of nowhere.

Reaching the river, I turned left and soon found a bridge. Below, women were doing the laundry on the rocks. On the other side, I found the main road. It was well over 30°C and I was starting to get warm, but continued walking. Just a minute before, the only bus passed, so I was a bit unlucky. Being Sunday, not much was happening.

but then my luck changed. A motorbike showed up, and stopped to pick me up. We managed to balance both me, my glider and the driver on the little bike, and off we went on the pot hole-ridden road. Unfortunately, Kukaram, the driver, had to turn off after less than halft the distance, so I was walking again. But I probably saved an hours hike in the heat.
Maybe 30 minutes later, I was warm but determined to keep walking. But luck smiled to me again, and an enormous truck loaded with firewood stopped and picked me up. It was not much faster than myself, but somewhat more comfortable.

Reaching the village, i thanked and jumped off and
found myself a group of tandem pilots that took me up to the mountain. Three bananas later, i had had my lunch and was up in the air again!

Morning walks

Several mornings, I have been out walking. Then, when the others are on their way to the flying site, they pick me up in one of the jeeps.

It is a nice thing to do, have a walk on the country-side in the morning, when it is still fresh and cool. And I meet a lot of people. Above, you have some photos from these walks.