Monday, March 17, 2008

Nostalgic in Cairo

Hello, back again. I am afraid I have been extremely busy lately, and neglected my private blog somewhat. Also, my travel blog for MSN takes a lot of time.

As usual, I have been doing a bit of traveling. Last week, I visited the big travel fair TUR in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was great to be back in the city where I once studied, and also fun to meet old and new friends in the travel business, and editors from the major Swedish travel magazines. Managed to sell a few nice stories that will keep me busy this summer. About what? Can’t say yet, but it is going to be fun.

I also met two old friends from University over a beer at the friendly Polish restaurant Kraków. It’s funny how little we change over the years – we agreed on that we were pretty much the same persons as when we studied together, more than 15 years ago.

Friday, I took the train to Stockholm and stayed over at Lotta and Per. Lotta used to work in Jerusalem, so that is were we met. Both of them are really nice and generous persons, and Lotta and her always cheery mood is dearly missed in Jerusalem.
Anna, another Swedish friend in Jerusalem, was also visiting Stockholm and staying at Lotta’s place, so we went out for dinner the four of us. I really enjoy keeping up contact with good friends like this, I find it a pleasure but also important. When you live an international life on the move, it is far too easy to loose contact with people, even if they are important for you.

Saturday saw me attending the Swedish Paragliding Association's annual meeting. I am the editor of their magazine Hypoxia (which I very much enjoy producing) but I have not been able to meet the board before. So this was a most fortunate occasion. The meeting was held in conjunction with a big adventure fair, where most of the Swedish diving industry exhibited. So I could say hello to a few old colleagues and friends from my diving years while there.

In the evening, I went to my favored Stockholm drinking venue, the Czech pub/restaurant Soldaten Svejk. Their beer is poured with utmost care and love, and of the very best quality. The food is recommendable as well, if you like the heavy cuisine of central Europe (which I do).
My old University friend (and nowadays customer – he asked me to write the travel blog for MSN) and regular Svejk-company showed up as well, nowadays a somewhat rare event since he lives on an island in the Mediterranean right now. Later on, Maxson, another friend from the University of Journalism, joined us for a glass or two. Fun!

I called it a day rather early, which was wise, considering I had to go up at four the next morning to go to the airport. Sunday was a looong travel day for me. First a flight from Stockholm to Vienna. Then another flight to Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv, the Israelis managed to call in 13 staff members just to arrange for my transfer between flights (something that is normally done without any staff at all other airports in the world). It took them an hour to figure out that I was not going to blow up any planes this time either. I mean, they check me in and out every time they see me at the airport outside Tel Aviv, which is very often. Paranoia is a strong understatement when it comes to them.
Anyway, in the end, they let me enter the airports waiting lounge, where I sat for more than three hours, before it was time to board my flight to Cairo. Landing there late in the evening, I took a taxi to the fancy Cairo Marriott Hotel on an island in the Nile.

So here I am, in Cairo again. There is a nostalgic feeling in the air when I walk the narrow and crowded alleys of the souk – I visited Cairo three times in the 90’s, but have not been back since. Most of it is exactly the same. Maybe the buildings are slightly crumbling somewhat more, maybe the traffic is a notch worse. But the same kind of wrinkly old seen-it-all men sit at the corner cafés, smoking their shishas (water pipes) and sipping their tea.
I like it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jerusalem, Nablus, violence and strawberries

Finally, I am back in Jerusalem, and have been so for a few days. I had a great time in Brazil (check out the photos here) and was lucky enough to be upgraded to business class on the flight from Rio to Madrid (the food was rather bland, but the seat very comfortable and the wine excellent).
Unfortunately, I ran into problems in Madrid. , I was booked on an Iberia-flight from Madrid to Tel Aviv and since I was in transit, I came to the gate well in time (the time recommended on the boarding card).

At the gate I found out that the flight was operated by El Al (the horrible Israeli Airline). There was a long line for an extra security check. I quickly had at least 30 persons waiting behind me in the line as well.

Unfortunately, the security check was made in such an inefficient way, that when I was ready with it, the gate was closed and I missed my flight. I was rebooked on a much later flight, via Barcelona, and arrived 12 hours late. This was my third night of traveling in a row and I was very tired. I also missed a day of work due to this delay. Never ever fly with El Al if you can avoid it!

Back here, my first assignment was to go to Nablus and take photos of a hospital in dire need of renovation. Hopefully, ANERA can refurbish three wards, which would make a big difference for patients and staff at the hospital.
On the way there, I passed blossoming almond orchards and street vendors with mounds of fresh strawberries. Actually, the last few days have been really hot, with temperatures up to 20-23”C in the shade. Yesterday, we had our first glass of wine on the terrace this year. Lovely!

It is hot here in many other, sadder ways. Things are really going the wrong way, with more and more violence, not only in Gaza but also here on the West Bank. Well over a hundred Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces, a large part of them civilians. And yesterday, there was a terror attack at a nationalist Yeshiva (which is a kind of ultra-orthodox Jewish religious school), where a Palestinian killed at least eight persons.
Now, there are even more checkpoints on the road, and the soldiers manning them are even more harsh. A colleague saw a pregnant woman being turned away from a checkpoint this morning after waiting for hours. The soldiers denied her to pass because she sat down to rest next to the queue. These kind of things happens everyday here. Sad indeed.

But now to some good news; Finally, MSN got their act together and published their Swedish travel portal, where I am the resident blogger. I have been contracted to write the blog since mid December, and have done so, but now, the blog is up there for everybody to read. Please have a look, and do not hesitate to mail your travel-oriented questions to me.