Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Exploring the Old City, Jerusalem

The Citadel Hostel, tucked away just off David (street), wasn't easy to find .... but nothing is in the Old City. It is a maze and thoroughfares are all narrow and many lined with market stall outlets during daylight. You don't go anywhere without climbing up or down.

Looking back at it now, it seems perfectly appropriate that there was a negotiation on the cost of my stay. Wheeling and dealing apart I felt lucky I had any bed and a dormitory bed was good when my booking had been mysteriously cancelled! The place had a certain calm with its low arched ceilings and floor seating. All respected the privilege of staying in tge ancient city.

The entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is modest for a place that is the most sacred for Christians. Jesus's tomb is believed to be within together with the site of the crucifixion, the final stages of The Way of the Cross. Many churches and chapels line the Via Dolorosa as it runs from the Muslim to the Christian Quarter. The inside of the church reveals two major domes although an original bigger structure, built by the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine, was destroyed and replaced by the time of the Crusades. 

The Western Wall is most sacred for Jews and is believed to be the only remaining section of the original Temple build by King Solomon about three thousand years ago. The Wall forms a section of of the huge raised platform on which the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands. The rights of access to the Temple Mount being highly contentious as they have been throughout history.

Haram Al-Sharif or Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount was built by the Islamic dynasty to eclipse the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a truly iconic building with its golden dome prominent on the skyline.

Much is packed into the walls of the Old City helping to make it an extraordinary city. A spiritual city for many faiths.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Bethlehem and Old City, Jerusalem

Today's modern city of Jerusalem was a pleasure to experience. Overnight I found accommodation in a small hotel which carried out all communications through electronic tablets located outside and inside the hotel. It nearly worked except human error had resulted in the room key not being left in the digitally locked key cabinet, and the owner had to be called!

The street scene that night on Yafo (main street) was very upbeat. A festive joyful atmosphere without a festival .... guitar music, spontaneous singing and young people sat around on the paving. It felt good.

In daylight and refreshed overnight there was still climbing to Bethlehem. Here  the Church of the Nativity, built over the place of Jesus's birth, stands next to the town square where children play. Streets are dusty and dangerous where road improvements are being made.

Cycling into Palestinian Territory on the way to Bethlehem was straightforward. Then realizing the overpowering concrete wall barrier built by the Israelis to protect themselves was sobering and sad. The evidence of the Wall much clearer now graffiti covered in protest. 

Adjacent the Wall the hotel name was making a statement. 

Returning through this border control point was again straightforward for me with my British passport. Cars were being checked for illegal passengers. Only Palestinians with authorised visiting documents can enter.

Arriving at Jaffa Gate to enter the Old City of Jerusalem during late afternoon is my journey and pilgrimage end point.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Beit Nehemia (near Ben Gurion airport) to Jerusalem

I expected to arrive in Israel and find myself rolling effortlessly into Jerusalem. Ben Gurion airport is outside the modern high rise city of Tel Aviv with the Israel Trail passing relatively closeby.

In isolation in the weirdest Air B&B imaginable, an open sided kibbutz style structure in an ecological park, my start was early. No dinner, no breakfast and the Israel Trail to follow.

Perservering on the Trail for over 30kms, often at my limit pushing bike and baggage over the rocks, it was clear this Trail is for walking. Shadowing the West Bank Palestinian Territory border it was gruelling and I switched to a direct route to Jerusalem. The intensity of traffic was nerve racking and climbing went on relentlessly. I gave up on my plan to make Bethlehem and in desperation aimed for Jerusalem. I could not find a safe way into the city,  clambered onto a bus full of people, the driver could see my predicament and slumped out at the bus station in Jerusalem city center. That bus driver was the kindest person....I was very fortunate!

I was in Jerusalem but not celebrating, only feeling the relief of being off the highway and at the end of fierce climbing. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Larnaca to Tel Aviv

Before relaxing there is a list of priorities to be addressed.  

Apartment 101 now had 2 bikes on its balcony, mine and the one owned by a Swiss guy Peter. The 3rd guy in our room was convinced I was a military man and could explain God's involvement with mankind. He remained in our tiny 2 x2 berth bunk bedroom all day and night. 

Finding a box to pack my bike for the flight to Tel Aviv was pressing and that went well enough. Some enquiries in advance helped.

Larnaca is one of the World's 20 most continuously inhabitated ancient cities and known too for St Lazurus who, after the miracle, spend his latter years here teaching the Gospel. His tomb lies beneath the Church of Lazarus although it is also said that his remains were taken to Constantinople. 

My fellow member of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Jerusalem is in Cyprus and David is exploring more of the island before flying to Tel Aviv.  I've overtaken him and after reassembling my bike in Ben Gurion airport I am spending my first night in Israel completely alone within an open sided covered structure.... kinbutz style!!

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019


Overnight the ferry crossed to Girne/Kyrenia (Turkish/Greek) and after wheeling the bike through customs control the only way inland was over a steeply rising mountain range under the hot sunshine. Missing dinner and breakfast (no meals on boat) and temperatures in excess of 32° at 9.30am I was forced to use my 'reserves' to stop/start my way over the pass. 

Nicosea arrived quickly after that and in an unassuming minor street location Border Control between Turkish Northern Cyprus and Greek Cyprus queried my arrival there then waved me through. Looking back it was more obvious that the frontier was heavily defended with huge rampart walls. It looked peculiarly medieval as if copied from days of crusading knights.

The Polis control access into the historic center so I skipped the sights and continued to traverse the island. It seemed that the  capitalist society exploded in my face..... boutique shops selling fashionable clothes, bars, stores and restaurants with varieties of food, coffee shops (yes!), and expensive fast cars. Now the jet black Lamborghini on the ferry crossing with a Russian numberplate and dubious looking driver made complete sense. And the young Turk who had failed to emigrate to Germany whispered to me "Russian Mafia". 

The appropriately numbered 101 apartment in Larnaca is a story in itself.  

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Random thoughts in Tasucu

An odd selection of thoughts as the day is spent waiting for the overnight ferry to Cyprus or Kibris as its known in Turkey.

Wales beat France against the run of play, listening to online BBC Wales radio coverage, but a team on a roll manage to do that. I'm really thrilled for the players and realize France must feel hugely disappointed. Wifi signal outside Hotel Fatih was just enough for me to follow the radio commentary.

The waterside cafe owner has a fishing rod which he uses when there are no orders. He is the cook and a burger and chips here is so much more acceptable than the kebab stuff in most other places. I've surprised myself by the struggle I've had with 'street food' but whether you are in or out its still 'street food'....kebabs! And there's Ayran the jogurt drink served with your food.

Conditions crossing Anatolia in October are bearable but its a very long haul cycling the main highways. The highway road surfaces are excellent which makes it a difficult decision to stray far from them. Fuel services stations provide the only sensible refreshment stops... iced Nescafe is the closest to a cappuccino.

Meeting Anatolian Shepherd or Kangal Shepherd dogs is nerve racking but you get over it and a handful of stones gives one an added confidence. 

Rubbish litters the roadside everywhere. Plastic water bottles and soft drink bottles most noticeable. The extent of single use plastic is heartbreaking when we take measures to reduce. Even a can of coke is handed over in a bag.

The Muslim 'call to prayer' is a five times a day practice (loudly) broadcasted over speakers from local mosques. The dawn one currently falls at about 6am each morning and the resulting activity kicks off my own preparations for the day ahead. 

A couple of images, at the bakery where they make very good bread and outside my hotel hanging around waiting to catch my overnight ferry. And one of the (miserable) passenger waiting zone at the ferry terminal.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Time in Tasucu

Ok, I should be in Cyprus now meeting the hostel owner at Tempo Market to guide me to the 'special' apartment where my bike could be safely secured overnight. In fact I'm still in Turkey because the ferry was cancelled, no explanation!

Ok, I feel shattered so maybe delaying the crossing is good. There is a bar here, the first I've located since Istanbul...and there's live music, relaxed conversation and smiling people. After recent experience of local custom I feel almost guilty joining them .... a feeling that mysteriously evaporated after a glass of Efes local pilsner.

Earlier, a local diver returns with his catch, harpooned or 'shot' as he said. The seas are choppy today. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.