Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review

I've done similar recaps for the last 2 years as well! Check out my travels in 2013 and 2014 here. It's fun to look back.

I rang in the New Year pretty exhausted with jet lag- New Year’s Eve was the day after I got back to Israel from Christmas break. After an 8 hour flight delay that made the already 25 hour-ish commute even more tortuous, it was pretty impressive that I was able to stay awake until midnight. What made it more fun was that David came to visit! We spent New Year’s Day touring around Haifa (in short sleeves, might I add), and then spent a few days sightseeing around Jerusalem. The very next week I had the chance to spend another week in Jerusalem for a seminar with my program. Great start to the year!

Israel with David
Solo Jerusalem time
January was all about Jerusalem, and February was all about Hebrew. I spent most of the month (and a few weeks of the previous one) spending 5 hours a day in an intensive Hebrew class. I loved pretty much every second of it. I really wish I’d gotten to study more Hebrew over here. I also had the chance to go on a few field trips with the other Hebrew students. The only downer of this month was re-injuring my knee and tearing my meniscus... something that would definitely end up affecting the rest of my year! 

Touring Israel- Nazareth, Tzfat, Rosh Pina

In the last week of February, it was time to switch languages and head over to France for a little trip. I made it to a long list of places on this trip- Switzerland, the French Alps, Alsace, and finally 4 magical days in Paris. The best day hands down was the one we spent at Versailles followed by a spontaneous trip to the Eiffel Tower at night.

France adventures

On March 1st, I headed back to Israel. And guess who met me there- my parents! I spent the first week of March touring with them, and it was an amazing trip. We spent time in Haifa, Galilee, and Jerusalem. I love getting to be the tour guide. And I also love tacking another vacation onto the end of a previous vacation. One of the fun parts about our time in Jerusalem was that it happened to be Purim- a fun holiday to witness!

Houdeks in the Holy Land

After conversations with doctors and my parents, we made the decision that I should go home to get my knee fixed. This event was not up to the standards of how great my 2015 started. I attended the first few weeks of the new semester, and then flew home in about the middle of March. If I remember right, March 26th was the big day when I got a brand new ACL.

Accessorizing the best I could.

April sucked. The original plan was for me to head back to school after just missing a few weeks, but they ended up needing to do a different surgery than planned that had a much longer recovery time. Basically, I couldn’t move for the whole month of April except for going to meetings with my sadistic physical therapist. If it was possible to die of boredom, I would have. On the bright side, I had a concerned puppy to look out for me and entertain me. This was the only view I could take pictures of this month. <3 <3

Things started looking up in May. I still couldn’t walk without crutches until around the end of the month, but it wasn’t painful anymore. Being able to move helped to alleviate my boredom, although the boredom was still pretty intense. I still couldn’t drive, and I didn’t really have anything to do anyway. David moving to the U.S. to start his internship  in the middle of the month was a definite improvement! 

June went by fast because of the exciting things going on. I finally had someone to do stuff with! At the beginning of the month, me and David road tripped it to Mall of America, which was great for my morale. As the month went by, we started getting closer and closer to Jenna’s WEDDING! It was so fun to have Jenna home and to get to be there for the festivities on June 27th. It was also very fun to see all of my extended family that came into town.

I was in the U.S. for just the first 5 days of July. We had a great family reunion in the Dells and celebrated the 4th together. On the 5th I flew back to Israel to start my summer semester classes. I had some catching up to do in school, so I had a packed schedule. I only had class 2 days a week, but on those days I had class from 10-8.. with a lot of homework to do on the days in between. To preserve my sanity I tried to get out and do something fun at least once a week (although with 100+ degree weather, that took a lot of motivation). For example, I stayed overnight in Jerusalem (yeah, I tend to go there a lot) and checked out Tel Aviv.

Back in Israel!

August was pretty much exactly the same as July. Working hard in school, trying to travel a little, and also trying not to die in the Israeli heat. I survived (and had a pretty good time). One of the highlights was getting some Mediterranean beach time. I flew back to the U.S. on the last day of the month. Most of this post is about me flying back and forth to the U.S. and periodically visiting Jerusalem and France- I guess those are the official themes of my 2015! F.Y.I., I’m currently writing this on that famous U.S.-Israel flight that I love so much (SARCASM, in case you didn’t catch onto that).

Israeli August
(Note the library picture in the middle, because that is the most accurate representation of how I spent my time that month)

My 6 weeks at home during the fall break was one of my favorite parts of this year. There was some nice fall weather that started early, and lots of time to be lazy at home with my parents and puppy. I made to downtown Chicago, and then at the end of September I went to visit friends and family out in Utah. This month was also the historic occasion when I did ballet for the first time since getting hurt the year before.

I was in the U.S. for the first few weeks of October. I managed to fit in a road trip with David down to Kansas and Missouri to visit some family and tour some church history sites (and watch him eat too much barbecue). Of course, there were more fall activities that do not exist in Israel (seeing leaves, carving pumpkins, and eating lots of pumpkin flavored things) that I had to fit in as well! After getting back to Israel, I got back in the swing of classes and stayed busy with that.

November was mostly spent being busy with school. I also made it to Jerusalem twice- once to hear Elder Holland speak, and once for a seminar. Of course, I fit in some sightseeing too. I ended up getting a real American Thanksgiving dinner with the members of the Galilee branch (and even had the experience of sleeping over in the church building afterwards haha). On the last day of the month I headed over to la France once again.

November Jerusalem

My first week of December was spent visiting Strasbourg (Christmas markets!) and around where David’s from in the south. Despite getting to go on vacation, the month didn’t start out very well when I lost my puppy unexpectedly :(. Back in Israel, I took a day to visit Nazareth and to track down some Christmas spirit. After just one more week of class, I flew home for Christmas for a whirlwind trip that was half spent in the haze of jet lag. It was great to celebrate my favorite holiday with my family.

France in December
Israeli Christmas spirit

Now, on the last day of 2015, I’m back in Haifa for one last month of school. My third and final semester of grad school is almost over! I have a lot of work to do this month, and of course I’ll also have to find some time to travel and enjoy Israel while I’m still here. It’s definitely bittersweet to know my international adventures are over (at least for the foreseeable future). I love being home and I’m looking forward to that, but I don’t like not having anything exciting on the horizon. I'm afraid that my life will be boring now!!

I started traveling in April of 2013, and now at the beginning of 2016 it’s all finally coming to an end. It will be a big change! I don’t know yet what 2016 will bring, but I guess I’ll find out. 

Happy New Year!

(p.s. Just noticed that this is my 150th blog post!)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Where are you, Christmas?

Well, I'm living just about 2 hours north of Bethlehem, where that whole first Christmas thing all went down, but of course, given the demographics in modern-day Israel... Christmas is not really a thing here. They celebrate lots of other holidays, but not this one!

Like most people that celebrate Christmas, I love the whole season. I am lucky enough to get to go home for the week of Christmas, but that is obviously not enough time to be in the Christmas spirit. I got a pretty good dose of Christmas during my week in France, and this week I've made some efforts to track down Christmas in Israel.

On Monday, I went with a friend to Nazareth. It only takes about 40 minutes to get there on the bus. 

We started out by stopping by the Basilica of the Annunciation.

I like this church because it's very unique, with a lot of art. And it's huge- it's supposedly the biggest church in the Middle East.

There are representations of Mary (usually with Jesus) donated from almost every country in the world. Unfortunately, the American one is one of the worst.

Thankfully, Canada's is the very worst... which makes ours look better. Thanks, Canada!

Right next to the church is Nazareth's covered market/shuk. We walked through it and picked up some souvenirs.

We opted not to purchase these pigs, but that was super fun to come across. #definitelynotkosher

Our next stop was trying to find Christmas. After about a 10 minute walk, we were successful. I was very impressed with the big tree! 

That's Bryonna, who is a fellow ex-BYU student that recently came to University of Haifa. We actually lived at the FLSR (foreign language student residence) at the same time, although we didn't know each other then. Small world.

This little Greek Orthodox church was next to the tree. Inside is what is supposed to be "Mary's well."

There was also a small Christmas market. It obviously wasn't quite up to European Christmas market standards, but I probably should have expected that. We went there on the day after it opened, so it might get a little more impressive as the week goes on. There were some things to eat, as well as a lot of hand-made Arab embroidery and other crafts. We wished we had enough money to buy some of the beautiful things for sale! However, usually the word 'hand-made'= super expensive.

Nazareth is an Arab city, and from what I've heard about half of the population are Arab Christians. So that explains why you can find some Christmas there, besides the fact that they cater to Christian tourists, because, you know, Jesus lived there. They also have a big parade on Christmas Eve, which I would totally go to if I wouldn't be in Wisconsin!

After some lunch we headed back to Haifa, which ended up taking a lot longer than actually getting to Nazareth. I'm not complaining about taking the long way home though, because as long as we ended up in Haifa eventually, I count it as a success. Taking the round-about way also meant that we got to say hi to the beach just before sunset.

What made it even better was that I ate a Hannukah doughnut on the beach. Monday was the last day of Hannukah, so I absolutely had to participate in that tradition before the holiday was over. It's traditional to eat foods fried in oil to remember the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days that the holiday is based on. Religion is fun!

Yesterday, two days after the Nazareth trip, I ventured to downtown Haifa for one last dose of Christmas before heading home. I remembered from last year that there is one street in the German Colony that is beautifully decorated. I love the combination of the menorah, the tree, and the Baha'i gardens in the background.

Obviously, most of Israel is not decorated for Christmas... which made seeing this stuff more exciting. Tomorrow I head home! It's probably a little crazy to fly 14 hours to only be home for a week, but it's happening.

 Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Monday, December 7, 2015

A series of unfortunate events

Yes, it's a rather sad title for a post about a vacation (it's the name of a book series, if you're not aware). I was originally going to call this post “Il était une fois,” which is the French equivalent of ‘Once upon a time’, because visiting Alsace during the Christmas season is really like stepping into a fairy tale. Unfortunately, real life is not a fairy tale... and real life does not stop just because you go on vacation.

When I go on vacations I like to have everything planned so that I can maximize seeing new things. I have a hunger to see (most of) Europe, and I wanted to capitalize on being relatively close by in Israel while I can. I leave Israel for good in January, and who knows when I can cross the Atlantic again.

I had a pretty great week planned in France, and I built it up in my head that it was going to be the best week of my year. I was so fortunate to have had an amazing trip to France last February traveling in Switzerland, the French Alps, Alsace, and Paris (which set the bar pretty high for this trip). This time, my plan was to see Lyon, Grenoble, Gap (David’s hometown in the Alps), some new cities in Provence for a few days, and then the Lyon Festival of Lights on my last day.

The Festival of Lights is something I’ve wanted to see for years. It kicks off the Christmas season in Lyon with light displays and shows in the old town of the city. That was the first thing to get crossed off my list. It was cancelled due to security concerns after the Paris attacks. Completely the wrong decision if you ask me, but unfortunately they didn’t remember to consult me about it. That was what I planned my whole trip around, but at that point I was still determined to make the best of things.

Strike two was David and his mom getting pretty sick with something contagious that I didn’t want to catch. I decided to delay arriving in their city for a day to avoid them having to entertain me while they were sick and to avoid getting sick myself. Instead, I hopped on a train to Strasbourg to visit my old city, which was actually pretty fun.

Strike three was that while I was flying to France, David’s dad ended up in the hospital having to get his appendix out. Because of that, we wouldn’t be able to travel around Provence at all. I decided to stay in Strasbourg alone for an extra day in order to stay out of the way. 

Strike four was getting the news while in Strasbourg that my beloved puppy wasn’t going to make it past the next day. Even though she was very old, it came as a total shock and it just broke my heart. I’m dreading going home now.

That’s all, I promise! But it was quite the week. Thankfully, that seems to be the end of the series of unfortunate events for this trip. I’m currently en route back to Israel.

Anyways, enough about the sucky parts of my week. Onto the fun parts...

I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday walking the streets of Strasbourg admiring the amazing Christmas decorations and markets. I also had the chance to visit all of my favorite stores for some wonderful shopping time and to eat all of my favorite French foods. After a week in France, I am full to the brim with delicious bread, cheese, and chocolate... and my suitcase is full to the brim with the results of my shopping. You know it’s been a good shopping week when you have to sit on your suitcase and it’s still a legitimate workout to get it closed.

I also spent a few hours on Wednesday in Colmar, which is a town about 30 minutes away. It’s kind of like Strasbourg’s little sister. It’s more quaint and more like a village than a city.

Adding to the fairy tale look of Colmar, a straight out of a storybook gypsy woman I think tried to eat me. As I was walking into the city, she jumped in my path and opened her coat to show me the crap she was trying to sell. When I kept walking, she came closer and whispered in my ear “What... are you afraid of gypsies, little girl?” and then threw her head back and cackled. That actually happened. (By the way- do I look like a little girl? hahaha).

A quick note about the effects of the Paris attacks- there was a TON of security in Strasbourg. Like Lyon, they actually thought about canceling the markets (merci for not doing that!). Most places I went inside, my bag was searched and I had to open my coat. There were also soldiers walking everywhere. It felt just like home in Israel! I also saw a few tributes to the victims and a lot more flags than usual.

On my first full day in Gap, I went with David and his mom Nicole to Mont-Dauphin, a place not too far from where they live. You can see the fortifications that Louis XIV had built here. When we went, it was completely deserted and we didn’t see other tourists or really anyone who lived there. It’s a gorgeous place surrounded by mountains on all sides, and it was kind of fun to have it to ourselves.

Driving back from Mont-Dauphin we saw an amazing sunset. It was a little hard to capture from inside a moving car, but I did my best.

We also made a quick stop at the Abbaye de Boscodon, where you can casually see some 12th century Romanesque architecture.

The next day, we went to Gap’s open-air market in the downtown area. I think downtown Gap is kind of cute and colorful. After some authentic Italian food made by David’s uncle, we went to see the last Hunger Games movie. It was great because in French they say “le jay-moqueur” instead of mockingjay and ‘Kahtnees’ instead of Katniss, and I laughed every time. There were some pretty lights in downtown Gap. It wasn’t Strasbourg, but still. :)

We had a low-key day on Sunday. I had fun listening to church in French at their little branch (though it was pretty big compared to the Galilee branch). We also popped in a store to look at Christmas decorations, and then the cathedrals in Gap to check if they had their crèches (nativity scenes) set up yet.

One did, and the exciting part was that they had little stones that you could write your name on and add to the display. Sooooo, basically I’m famous in Gap now.

To add up the positives of this interesting trip (because I’m American and I feel obligated to end this on a happy note):
-Visiting Strasbourg during the Christmas season (for the 3rd year in a row!!!) was an amazing opportunity. It’s magic, and there’s nothing like it.
-I got to speak French and be in France all week (in a lot of ways, France feels like home to me). 
-David and his parents were all feeling better, and it was fun to get to hang out with him and get to know his parents better. It was nice of them to do things with me even when their family had other things going on.

Au revoir, France! J’espère revenir bientôt. Merci à la famille Rubino :)