Touring Ein Kerem

January 21, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Our week in Jerusalem was mostly work-focused. I met a ton of fantastic, interesting, brilliant people, and learned sooo much! On Wednesday afternoon, we got out of the classroom for a few hours and went, as a group, to tour the small town of Ein Kerem. This lovely little village sits on top of a hill just east of Jerusalem, and hosts a long and interesting history.

People still live on the ancient desert steps

If you hadn’t caught on from my previous posts, Jerusalem sits on, effectively, several mountains of limestone. The whole city is built from “Jerusalem stone,” which is a beautiful pinky-white limestone. With the hills, juniper trees, and limestone scattered all over, the whole region distinctly reminded me of Shelf Road.

Limestone is a beautiful, and interesting rock. Anybody who lives around limestone beds knows that the rock can dissolve easily in running water, and that limestone beds are usually riddled with caves and springs. So it is in Jerusalem, and much of early Christian history and lore revolves around these ancient caves and springs. On Wednesday, we got a chance to see this first hand.

Mary's Spring - the spot where the virgin mother stopped to drink

We started out the tour with a visit to “Mary’s Spring,” which is supposedly the site of where Mary (mother of Jesus) and Elizabeth (mother of John the baptist) first met. I love seeing very old springs, and imagining how these waters have erupted from the ground, in the middle of the desert, for thousands and thousands of years.

The Church of the Visitation

We went further up the hill to the Church of the Visitation. This was a beautiful church, with a real Franciscan monastery on the grounds. This church is very old, dating back to the Byzantine age, and sits on the spot of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. The church has beautiful arches, gardens, and frescoes, all maintained by the Franciscan monks. On the day we were there, a few of the monks were walking around in the chilly afternoon. They had their hair cut in the traditional manner, they were wearing traditional brown robes and rope belts. They looked for all the world like Friar Tuck. Except, most were wearing 1980’s-era nylon windbreakers over their robes. It’s one of those non-sequiturs that makes you stop, and realize you’re not in Disneyworld any more.

The birthplace of John the Baptist - in an ancient limestone cave

We walked across the valley and visited the Church of John the Baptist, which is built on another cave system where, according to tradition, John the Baptist was born. The church itself is obviously new, but it sits on the remains of crusades-era and Byzantine-era churches, which were built on top of an ancient Greek temple. Surely, this is a special place.

In the evening, we watched the sun set from the monastery of Les Soeurs de Notre-Dame de Sion (Sisters of Our Lady of Zion), and then hopped on the bus to an overlook for the city of Jerusalem. The Old City was all lit up, and the gold dome on the Temple Mount filled the dark desert sky with light.

Looking out over the Old City of Jerusalem

Back from Israel

January 19, 2009 at 1:56 pm

It was a great week. I met so many great people, saw tons of amazing things, and got to explore a beautiful city.

Gardens below the high walls of the Temple Mount

People exploring the streets and hallways of the Old City

I described our first day of exploring the old city in a previous post, and now I’ve uploaded pictures from the day into the gallery. Enjoy!

View through an embrasure of the rest of Jerusalem

Notes from the Road: Israel

January 11, 2009 at 6:53 am

I’m on the last leg of my traveling adventures, and this is by far the most exciting, interesting, beautiful, and anxiety-ridden leg! Right now, I’m sitting in my hotel room in JERUSALEM. Yes, that’s right, in a land where people have been waging war for thousands of years, and the government is currently fighting a war to the bitter end, I’m visiting for a conference! Well, actually it’s a week-long workshop at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on improving the prediction of global warming.

The conference starts tomorrow, so today the students met at breakfast and discussed sight-seeing plans. We had hoped to travel as a group today, but budgets, safety concerns (or lack-there-of for some German students) and general destination goals left Rachel and I to head for the Old City on our own.

This turned out to be a great decision. The Old City is walled and crawling with security, police, check points, and guys (and girls!) with very big guns. We’ve had our bags riffled through, gone through metal detectors, been physically patted down and questioned so many times in the last two days that it’s really becoming commonplace.

So this morning, Rachel and I were in a 4000-year-old city, the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ancestral home of Judaic people, a cultural center for Islam, and what were we most excited about? That’s right, THE SHOPPING! Ohmygosh. King David street runs down the center of the city is a beautiful, busy, amazing bazaar, full of people and things from around the world. There were beautiful oriental scarves, decorative Arabic daggers straight out of Aladdin, chess sets carved by hand in India, spices piled in barrels on the sides of the street, beautiful jewelry from Africa and people everywhere calling out prices, haggling, and doing business. It was so cool.

Walking the King David Bazaar

After walking the bazaar, we paid admittance and spent a couple of hours exploring the archeological park in the northwest corner of the city. We ended up directly below the Al Aqsa Mosque when the noon prayers were called. I’ve never heard a call to prayer before, much less one in city where several thousand devout Muslims live, and it was amazing. Rachel took some video to record it, but the whole experience was ethereal. As we were down in a park, we were sitting in a lovely garden listening to the voices come over loud speakers in the minarets and hearing the distant responses echo through the Islamic quarter (which we didn’t visit). The pigeons roosting in the ancient temple walls were sent flying each time the calls rang out. It was so cool.

The Old City

So, a good first day in Israel! Aside from getting “war prices” from the vendors, the battles of the south seem so distant, it’s like they’re in another country. Life here goes on as normal, or as normal as it can be in a place like Jerusalem.

Notes from the road: Manhattan

January 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Tonight is my last night in the big apple, and I’m finally taking a few hours to relax and stop moving! Unsurprisingly, it seems hard to relax in the city that never sleeps.

New York City

I’m in New York for a team meeting of the Science and Technology Center (STC) which my advisor runs. It’s a beautiful city, and I’ve had a great time. There’s been beautiful views, big city life, funky shopping in the village, a walk past Ground Zero and down Wall Street, and lots and lots of great food.



I also got a lot of work done, including planning for the programming class I’m teaching this spring, distributing the material from my Climate Change course, meeting some wonderful, brilliant, people, and learning a whole bunch. It’s been a great trip, and I’ve got a lot of great pictures up in the gallery. More to come later!


Christmas 2008

December 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm

We had a good week of travel through the midwest for our Christmas celebrations this year. It was an interesting holiday, full of bad weather, surprises, happy families, and some difficult times.

An Icy Christmas

We spent the first part of the week with Mark’s family in Fort Wayne, Indiana. On our trip out to Indiana, we hit bitterly cold temps in Iowa. The next morning, the check engine light came on in the yellow truck, and the engine started noticeably miss-firing. We thought we had gotten bad gas, and after looking for an open mechanic shop in eastern Des Moines for about an hour, we just put in some fuel cleaner and drove off. We found out the next day that our ignition coil had shorted, and we got to drop a chunk of change on car repairs in Fort Wayne.

The day before we arrived, northern Indiana had a horrible ice storm, that knocked out power to over 400,000 people in the region. Mark’s parents were lucky, and when we got there, the power was still on. The only pictures I took during the whole trip were of the ice in Mark’s parents’ backyard the day after we arrived. The ice was beautiful, and there’s a small set of pictures in the gallery.

Lots and lots of icicles

The day before Christmas Eve, though, high winds blew through town and a branch dropped on the neighborhood power lines, leaving us in the dark and cold. We lit candles and read or napped for the as snow fell gently outside. My parents were stuck in an ice storm on I-70 in middle Indiana at this point. They spent 5 hours sitting on the interstate that evening.

Icicles on the tree

On Christmas Eve the power was still out, and Mark, Liv and I all headed to Akron Ohio to see my family. We had a fantastic visit with my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins in the area. Mark’s family continued in the dark and cold for another two days, and their power didn’t come on until about 10pm on the day after Christmas.

We started trekking back west on Friday. Mark’s brother was scheduled to fly out of Fort Wayne early on Saturday morning, but his flight was canceled at the last minute. The family had to drive him two hours south to the Indianapolis airport, where he stayed in a hotel Saturday night and got on a flight Sunday morning. It’s been a year of bad surprises, and it seemed like Christmas was no exception. But the family was together, and celebrating, and we all had a pretty good time regardless.

Oregon Vacation: Heading Home

October 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm

On Friday afternoon, we headed out of Portland and began the 1200 mile trip home.

View Larger Map

Unlike the trip to Bend, this drive was going to be on Interstates the whole way. We camped the first night at a quiet campground covered in dry fallen leaves on the banks of the Columbia river in Boardman, Or. We watched the sunset over the wide, calm river, made dinner on the camp stove and then slept soundly in the cool evening.

Dusk on the Columbia River

The next morning we stopped at the Tamatslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation. We were the first ones in that morning, and had the whole, big building to ourselves. I’ve been to a fair number of Native American museums, but I think this was one of the best. Not only did they cover tradition, and the history of the tribes in the region, but they covered recent events as well. Over half of the museum was dedicated to the time after the first waves of white immigrants entered the area. They talked about the confusion of Christian missionaries, the loss of land and eventually their horses, the forced boarding schools, and then the resurgence of the tribes after the 1960s. They had a great area dedicated to the future of the people, social and cultural projects, and the bright economic future of the tribe.

Looking over the Umatilla Res

Later in the afternoon, we had lunch at the Geiser Grand Hotel, once (and possibly still) the finest hotel between Salt Lake and Seattle. It was a focal point for travelers on the Oregon trail and during the western gold rush. It was another, more familiar, view of the same history we had seen earlier in the day. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to tell the same story.

We stayed at a hotel outside of Salt Lake City on Saturday night, and finished the trip home on Sunday. It was another long drive, but full of interesting sites, and a fine way to end a great vacation.

Oregon Vacation: The Portland Japanese Gardens

October 24, 2008 at 12:44 pm

We had one morning to explore Portland before heading back to Colorado. So, of course, we headed to the Japanese Gardens. After a week of traveling, adventures, and family time, it was nice to stop for a few hours, let our minds relax, and simply be.

Morning in the Zen Garden

The morning was chilly and foggy. Portland was so lush and green, it felt like we were walking through a jungle. Only a tiny bit of sun filtered down through the leaves covering the city like a thick green blanket.

A misty forest

The gardens sit on a hill above downtown Portland, and seem to follow a very traditional Japanese motif. There is a sign before the entrance stating that the gardens are meant to be experienced by all of your senses, and indeed, we did.

The big waterfall

The quiet sounds of running water and wind in the trees surrounded us. The smell of damp grass and old stone permeated the atmosphere. The taste of cyprus trees and foggy mornings sat on the air. We ran our hands over smooth stone carvings and bamboo stalks. And everywhere we looked there was beauty to behold.

Mark and the second sand garden

Calm water

The morning went by too fast. We made our way back to our car, with a quick stop to smell as many roses as we could at the neighboring rose gardens, grabbed lunch at a kabob cart down the hill, and then hit the road, heading east.

Oregon Vacation: Driving in to Portland

October 23, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Tired of pictures from Oregon yet? Great, me neither!! On Thursday, we took the whole day and drove the scenic route, through the Columbia River Gorge, into Portland.

There’s pictures in the gallery.

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Oregon Landscape

The day was sunny and beautiful, and we got great views of distant volcanoes and mountains before descending into the Columbia River Gorge, which we followed into Portland. We had lunch at a great diner at The Dalles (you have to say the “the”), and then meandered down the river, gawking at kite surfers and windsurfers for about an hour.

Kite surfing the Columbia River Gorge

Just before Portland, we pulled off the interstate and drove the scenic by-way for a while, stopping to check out a few waterfalls along the way.

Horsetail falls 3

We stopped at the classic Multnomah Falls also, which is advertised as being the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US. This fact, I’ve sense learned, is widely disputed. In any case, it’s near 600ft tall cascade through the dense, lush foliage of the Pacific Northwest rainforest was incredibly beautiful. Even the crowds weren’t too bad. Though, Bruce did spend an unfortunate (for him) amount of time bending over his camera in front of mine. :)

Multnomah Falls 1

We arrived at Mark’s aunt Mary and uncle Bill’s house right on time at 6:30p, had a great taco dinner, and then wandered over to my uncle Jerry and aunt Jean’s house for bed.