Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Snow in Jerusalem

This morning, I woke up to find Jerusalem dressed in white. Nig heavy flakes of snow filled the air, and a thick layer of wet, melting slush covered everything. We (Femke, Micke - our Swedish guest, and me) dressed up for the weather and ventured to the Old City. In this corner of the world, snow is something people treat with respect. Hence, the city was emptier than a Swedish town at three on Christmas Eve. The only people out were soldiers and photographers. We had a great time, enjoying the freak weather and the empty streets.

Sunday, we drove to Tel Aviv together with Micke, José and Åsa. I always found it an ugly city, and this visit didn’t change my mind. But José took us to a great Italian restaurant, Ernesto (90, Ben Yehuda Street), where I had the best pasta since my trip to Bologna last year. Delicious!
Afterwards, we walked the beach, enjoying the spring-like weather and even seeing some people go for a swim.

Monday, Micke bought me dinner on Pasha’s restaurant in East Jerusalem. They have the best meze’s (small Arabic dishes) in town. Afterwards, we had a beer at Barood in West Jerusalem and enjoyed the jazz band playing.

This might all sound like we are doing nothing but enjoying ourselves, but that is far from true. In fact, both Femke and me have been extremely busy lately. I am writing about my paragliding trip to India, and editing the next issue of the paragliding magazine (deadline on Monday). And Femke had her hands full with quarterly reports. But when you have lot’s to do it’s nice to go out for a drink or some nice food together with friends.

The Old City caught in a snow storm.

A minaret in the snow storm.

Femke and me on a rooftop in the Old City.

Femke and Micke in our alley this morning.

An ultra-ortodox jew praying at the Western wall,
despite the snow storm.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cancer story, and friend visiting

Today, I visited the private hospital Augusta Victoria to interview a breast cancer patient. ANERA donates very valuable medicines to the hospital’s cancer center, and I was there to do a story about this. I met with one of the patients, 75 year old Fatmi. Actually, she said that she was 80, but then checked her ID and found out that she was only 75. “What is five years in my age”, she said with a laugh.
A mother of six (and a grand mother to no less than 33), she was operated for breast cancer one year ago. Since ten, she had been treated with the medicine we donated, a hormone therapy that stops the body’s production of oestrogen, a hormone that otherwise enables the cancer cells to grow and spread. She was of course very grateful for our donation of medicines, a medicine she could never afford on her own.

I thought the story would be very sad, knowing that the survival rate for breast cancer in Palestine is well below ten percent (mainly due to a total lack of screening – when patients come in, it is often to late).
But Fatmi was such a vibrant woman, despite her age and disease. Moments like this, it feels good to work for an aid organization.

This afternoon, my friend Micke from Stockholm came to visit. He traveled her the long way, taking trains via Budapest and Istanbul, and then continuing through Syria (Aleppo and Damascus) and Jordan (Amman), before reaching Jerusalem. Great!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Paragliding in Austrian tirol + Vienna and Innsbruck

Wow, this has been such a wonderful weekend. Wait, let my rephrase that to a looong weekend.
Tuesday last week, I decided to go to Austria to attend the paragliding festival Stubai Cup in Neustift, Austrian Tyrol. I took a flight early morning Wednesday, and spent a few hours in Vienna on one of my favorite cafés there, the Kafee Alt Wien (Bäckerstrasse 9). Then I continued to Innsbruck and took a bus to Neustift in Stubaital.

Suddenly, from being in an angry and aggressive Middle Eastern desert country, I was in a peaceful and immensely beautiful alpine valley, with high, snow-covered peaks framing small wooden houses and cute cows. It is in moments like this I realize how tough it is to live in Israel. Here, my only problem was to choose what to eat and drink (from affordable and tempting menus, no weird kosher rules here) and what glider to try out for the next flight. What a difference.

The Stubai Cup is a yearly paragliding festival, where almost all of the manufacturers of paragliding equipment come together to show their new stuff. Even better, it is almost always available for test flying!
I enjoyed 13 flights with nine different gliders. In the end, I decided to order a new one for myself, the Nova Mentor. This I did at the Nova headquarters in Innsbruck. And while being in Innsbruck, I sniffed out a nice Micro Brewery where they also serve typical Austrian food. Great!

You will find a lot of my photos from the paragliding festival here.

Tuesday, I was heading home again, stopping in Vienna for some more cafés. This time, I ended up in the Italian Ice cream parlor/café/restaurant Fratelli (corner Schwedenplatz/Rotenturmstrasse and in the very cozy and small Kleines Café (Franziskanerplatz 3). Do try them out if you happen to end up in Vienna.

One of my favorite cafés in Vienna.

Flying high over Stubaital.

Test-flying the Nova Mentor.
This is the wing I ordered :-)

Theresienbrauerei in Innsbruck.

Fratelli in Vienna.

Mmm. Nice cake at Fratelli.

Inside Kleines Café in Vienna.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A weekend with friends

A lovely weekend is coming to its end. Friday evening, we went out for dinner together with some friends. Bryan, Cham, Paz and Sebastien joined us at the tapas restaurant Sol in west Jerusalem. Afterwards, we had a drink at the arty record/book café-cum-bar Uganda, where Anna joined the ranks.

Saturday, Femke and me walked a bit in the Old City, then had a lunch at Amigo Emil, a restaurant in the Christian part we have not tried before. Their kebab Haleb (kebab from Aleppo) was spicy in a nice way. Afterwards, we spotted a beautiful wooden chest with intarsia that we might go and by on Monday. I think it will compliment our Syrian table, and it will definitely be a souvenir from our Jerusalem time that we will bring with us through life.
In the afternoon I met Fredrik, Michelle and Anna at the Cinemateque to see the very dark and violent (but still beautiful) film Pan’s labyrinth.

Today, we had a slow start, reading the newspaper in bed, then driving to Abu Gosh for brunch and milkshake at the Elvis restaurant together with Anna. They have lovely milkshake there, but the hamburger could be better. Afterwards, we took a refreshing walk in the lush green forest around the old road to Jerusalem, crossing the Jerusalem hills. Femke spotted some cute deers!

Femke and Anna in the forest

Cute flowers surrounded by lush grass in the forest

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bush, school and tomatoes

I have been busy this week, so not been able to update earlier. Sorry for that.
Here, everything is affected by the US President George Bush’s visit. Streets are closed off all over Jerusalem, and also in Ramallah. For many people, it is close to impossible to go to their work, including several of our own colleagues at ANERA. Luckily, we can walk to the office and many other places, so we are OK.

Yesterday, I was down in the Jordan Valley, in a little village called Al Auj’a, where ANERA is building a new school. I took some photos, and enjoyed the much warmer climate that the Jordan Valley is blessed with (summertime is of course not that pleasant there). Here in Jerusalem, it was 6°C this morning. Brrr. And raining. To make things worse, our warm water heater broke down two days ago, the same day as we ran out of gas for our general heater (unfortunately, we have no central heating, it is not so common here). But the electrician came by yesterday morning, as did the gas guy, so now everything is working again.

Monday, I was up in the Tulkarem area in the northern part of the West Bank to take photos of the first harvest of cherry tomatoes in green houses that were sponsored by ANERA. The project trains farmers to produce higher quality vegetables for export, and also helps with green houses. It is always nice to visit successful projects and see the joy of people involved. Often, there are not so many reasons for happiness for them otherwise. When leaving Tulkarem, I passed a several kilometer long line of cars and truck that were stuck at a closed checkpoint. Even if the checkpoint would open immediately (it did not look very probably) it would take them many hours to pass. I, on the other hand, being a foreigner working for an American NGO, could overtake them all and just pass the checkpoint. This is how things work here, sadly.

Building a new school in Al Auj'a

Harvesting the first cherry tomatoes

Monday, January 07, 2008

Calamares at the beach

While reading on the Internet that there is snow chaos in Southern Sweden, were I come from, we have a somewhat different climate here. There is much to be said about living in Israel, but you cannot complain on the winter weather. Yesterday, we drove to Netanya on the Mediterranean coast for a long relaxing walk on the beach. But first we sat down on one of our favorite restaurants, the Sina fish restaurant just by the beach. Sitting on an outdoor restaurant in January, eating calamares and sipping Sauvignon Blanc white wine – now that is a treat. In the sun, the temperature must have been close to 20°C, although it was not more than 15 in the shade.

Tomorrow, our new boss at ANERA will have his first day at work. That is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The new year, and the past

So, a new fresh year dawns on us. Last year swooshed by like a French TGV-train, yet so much happened. We settled in Jerusalem, a big thing in itself.
In January, I was in Sweden for New Year, then seeing clients. On the way home, I stopped in Riga. Then, my mother became our first visitor there, staying for ten days.
In February, I went to Southern Spain for a paragliding story, then to Bologna for a food & drink story.
March took me to Berlin for more food & drink stories, then to my hometown Malmö in Sweden.
Femke’s sister and her boyfriend came to visit us. In the end of March, I also started to work part time for ANERA, the same aid organization where Femke works. And I started to work as the editor of the Swedish paragliding magazine Hypoxia.

In the beginning of April, we traveled to Jordan and had an adventurous camel safari in Wadi Rum and some diving and snorkeling in Aqaba. This was together with Femke’s sis and her boyfriend. A week after they left, Femke’s parents came to visit us, and we traveled together to Haifa, Akko and the Galilees.
Later on in the month, I went to southern Turkey to do a story about luxury hotels. Afterwards, I met up with Femke in Istanbul and together we had a romantic weekend there. Also, in the end of April, my Swedish university friend Dag came to visit us with his little daughter.

May brought more visitors in the form of Brussels friend Sarah (a Swedish freelance journalist) and her mother. After that, I went to Provence in southern France for a paragliding story, having great fun.

In June, I stayed in the region all the month. Femke’s university friend Eddy came to visit, and in the end of the month, we had a great midsummer party in Arbel (the Galilees) together with Anna and Lotta. My first issue of Hypoxia was published in the end of the month.

July was a hot and long month, spent entirely in the region. Puh! This was also when I made my first visit to Gaza.

With August, my traveling season started again. With Femke, I went to Amsterdam to see her friends and family, and to do a story about hotels in Amsterdam. My mother also came to Amsterdam for two days to see us. This was also the first time she met Femke’s parents. In the end of the month, I made another trip to Gaza.

September took me to Sweden, to meet family and friends, as well as clients and the printers of Hypoxia. From Sweden, I flew directly to Turkey for a sailing story. In the middle of this, I turned 39.

October 2007 spells SOUTH AFRICA for us. We flew there the 3 October for an almost three weeks long trip together. For Femke it was holiday, while I did a travel story. We had such a lovely time there. When Femke flew home, I stayed another week for a paragliding story. Coming home in the end of the month, I greeted Swedish friends Lucas and Lotta welcome as guests in our Jerusalem home.

In November, I once again went to Gaza. My friend Bonen came to visit for ten days, and in the very end of the month, I went to India for a paragliding story.
I came home from India mid December, worked for nine days with ANERA (my new boss in Washington, Liz, was visiting, as well as our new Jerusalem boss, Robert). 20 December, we flew to Sweden (with a lunch stop in Amsterdam together with Femke’s mother) to celebrate Christmas with my family and to meet friends. 27 December we flew south again to the Netherlands to meet Femke’s family and friends.

Summarizing the year this way makes me realize how busy 2007 was. I spent 159 days somewhere else than home. And we had guests over for 56 days. No wonder I was tired now and then. Yet, it was a great year with lots of fun.

How will 2008 be? No idea. I don’t even know where I will be living in the end of the year – maybe Jerusalem, maybe somewhere else.
Hopefully (but I am afraid I doubt it), things will change to the better in Palestine and Israel.
What I do know, is that Femke and me will continue to work in the West Bank and in Gaza as long as we live in Jerusalem.

I will hopefully continue to produce Hypoxia, the paragliding magazine (going to Brazil in February for a story). And I will probably start to write a travel blog for the Swedish web portal of MSN. My freelancing for Swedish travel magazines will also continue, including a planned trip to oasis in Egypt in March, and probably to Slovenia in April/May.

Otherwise, we just have to see. Let’s hope it is going to be fun!