Tuesday, November 29, 2005
What IS IT with me and airports??
Congratulations Air France, you have now taken first place from KLM as the airline I hate the most! Yes, I am home folks, and no it wasn't a pleasant flight in any way, shape or form.

It all started at about 5am at Heathrow airport in London England, Saturday morning. I had elected to stay up all night since I would be leaving at 3am to head to the airport. Who needs sleep, right? Maybe this would be my lucky trip and for once I would be able to sleep on the plane. I was feeling optimistic.

After waiting in the longest of airport lines I finally got to the baggage/check-in counter where I proceeded to disagree with the woman behind the counter about how much my over weight luggage would cost me. The ticket I bought was based on the information I was told by Air France over the phone; $35 a piece, if my luggage was over the 23kg limit but under 30kg. I had been militant about not buying, and therefore packing, anything more during my stay in London. This meant no presents for anyone back home. However, when I got to the counter I was being told 22 GBP (British Pounds) for every kilo over weight. I was 7 kilos, or just over 14lbs over. That meant that my luggage was going to cost me another $240(CAN) for the 14lbs extra in my luggage. Whatever. Long story short, I took out the weight, let her weigh my carry on bag and then stuffed it all in there when she wasn't looking. This would be the only win I would have against Air France....

After mulling around the airport and trying to exchange currencies (Israeli, Hungarian, European and British money) I decided to wait by my gate for the flight. When we finally boarded the plane we were made to sit on the tarmac for an hour and half before we finally took off. I know not the reasons and frankly my bladder didn't care. When the little seatbelt light was finally turned off I was out of my seat and running for the little girls room faster than a kid to his presents on Christmas morning. When I got to the back the first bathroom was already occupied and the other was blocked by the food/beverage cart. With a pleading look in my eyes and firm but polite words I got the guy at the back to move the cart. Never have I been so happy to see a bathroom. A full bladder is not a good thing on take off, this much I have learned.

A flight that should have taken an hour and a half to France ended up taking 3 hours. That left me a mere 15 mins before my next flight was to take off. Sprinting like a track star I ran through the airport to find my gate. When I got there I saw that the board above the gate listed an entirely different flight. I asked the guy at the counter and was informed that my gate had been moved.. to the other side of the airport (where I had just been). Goodtimes! So I sprinted back and arrived out of breath only to find my flight had been delayed; it looked like I had another 2 hours before we would board because of the snowstorm lashing Paris. No problem, I thought as I sat down on the floor and pulled out a magazine to read. 5 minutes later I glanced up at the board and found that suddenly the flight was being boarded, and there was a long lineup at the gate. Oh. So much for the 2 hours! I let the line die down a bit and then went through the gate and waited for the shuttlebus to take me to the plane.

Boarding the plane I made nice with the sweet guy I was sitting next to, named Jan. Jan was from Bosnia. We talked until we both kept nodding off so we said we'd talk over the meal. This is when things started to really go wrong. This is when we waited. And waited and WAITED to take off. At the 3 hour mark we moved to get in line for de-icing. And then after 4, yes count them, FOUR hours of sitting in the plane on the tarmac we were finally allowed to take off. This would be the fist time I had ever heard a plane load of people applaud when the plane took off, instead of when it landed.

8 hours later we arrived in Toronto. Ever happy I dug out my cell phone and called my mom to let her know that I had landed and just had to clear customs and grab my luggage. It was when I got to the passport control guy that the fact that I had not had sleep in nearly 48 hours finally became acutely obvious. He looked at my passport and asked me the purpose of my trip. Thinking he was a moron because DUH it's a Canadian passport, this was no trip to Canada for me, I said "Uh.. I live here". He then looked at me with the greatest of disdain and said, "No. Your trip from before". Realizing that it is in fact *me* who is the moron I giggled a little, apologized for the dumb answer but that I was tired and told him I was visiting a friend in London. Dumb dumb dumb.

Then the good fun really started.. baggage claim. I stood with all the other hapless fools around the conveyor belt waiting for that glimmer of hope that the trip is over. Waiting for the liberating feeling of spotting your luggage among a sea of others. As I jockeyed for a good position I kept my eyes peeled for my luggage (I picked the most hideously loud pattern I could so that I would be able to spot it on no sleep, just like at this particular moment). It was at this point that things would once again take a wrong turn. An announcement came over the speakers "Excuse me. Could passengers Blah, Blah, Blah and Blah please come to the Air France desk. Thank You". I, of course, was the last Blah in that list. When I got to the counter the girl asked me if I had received one of my two bags yet to which I said no. She informed me that one of my bags would be coming on a later flight and that I needed to fill out some paperwork. Furious and seething with rage I filled out the paperwork, mumbling that 4 hours on the tarmac should really have given them enough time to get ALL the baggage on the plane.

After filling out the paperwork I went back over to the conveyor belt to get my other piece of luggage. Hey, at least I would get *some* clean clothes out of this, I thought. And there I stood until everyone else was gone.... and I still had no luggage. I went storming back over to the counter where the woman and I exchanged barbed words once again and she told me my luggage would be delivered to my home tomorrow evening around 9:30-10pm. I took the piece of paper she handed me and crumpled it up into my jacket and walked towards customs. Just get me out of here.

I got to the customs lady and handed her the customs form I filled out on the plane but told her I had no luggage to go with what I wrote on the form. She asked where my luggage was. Through GRITTED teeth I said I didn't know. I was instructed to walk over to this other area and to hand the form to the man there. As instructed I walked to the customs check and waited in line. When I was called I walked up to the man, oozing attitude, and told him I had no luggage for him to check. He asked for my forms and I handed him my customs paper and the baggage claim form. He gave me a disapproving look and asked why it was all crumpled up and I told him it was because I had shoved it into my jacket (in a fit of rage, but I think he figured that much). He asked what was in my luggage to which I said, in my most snotty teenager voice, CLOTHES, and he gave me another look that said not to test him. He asked me how much it was worth and I look at him incredulously and said I had no idea. He said that I had written down $20 on my customs forms and I said that yes, what I was returning with was $20 (not what the contents of my luggage was worth) and why the hell was he asking if he had the answer right there??

Things are a blur after that. I know I raised my voice to great heights and I was vaguely aware that everyone around us had stopped to look. I also remember saying something about not having slept in 42 hours and he said something about just trying to do his job. I remember sensing that I could get myself arrested if I didn't pull back and I believe I ended it by screaming "Just do whatever it is you need to do so I can leave." I am just *so* charming when I've had no sleep and my luggage gets lost.

Anyway, the luggage eventually showed up at my home at 11pm the next day. I came down with a cold immediately upon my return home and I feel lousy. But I am here, I am warm and I am happy to be home. And if it's one thing this trip has taught me, it's appreciation for good plumbing. :-)

I don't currently have internet, or even a home, so my ability to get online over the next while will be impaired, hopefully not for too long. I am printing up my resume today and then heading out to get a job, any job, asap.

Thanks for all your support and concern for me, everyone. As always you guys rock. I'll find an internet cafe nearby and post again soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
adventures in England
I know, I know... where have I been, right? Well, for a while there actually wasn't a lot to report. I spent a few days holed up in my friend's apartment getting addicted to the show "24". Yes, I am the last person on the planet to watch it, so when I saw the first season dvd box set I decided to dedicate some serious viewing time to it.

This weekend was spend out about doing the tourist thing again with my friend and his family (his sister was visiting from Ireland). On Saturday we headed to the River Thames (pronounced "Temz" for reasons that completely escape me) and took a boat down the river for a scenic, if not downright chilly, tour. I was in tourist bliss as I snapped away taking all kinds of pictures along the way. I had noticed that my batteries were low on my camera but I had no fear because I made sure I brought along extra batteries. At least, I thought I had. Seems I had set them out but not packed them in my bag, a fact that eluded me until the pinnacle of tourist moments was upon me... passing right under London's famous Tower Bridge. My reaction was ranged from utter disbelief (since I was sure I had packed the batteries) to total annoyance and swearing. In an effort to find humour in the situation I took pretend pictures with my hands (like directors do).

Once we got off the boat the glaring point of a lack of battery power was really driven home as I stood under good ole Big Ben, the big clock tower in London. Ah yes, isn't every tourist obliged to take a picture of that when there? Let me pretend click some more. As I stood in bewilderment at my own stupidity, my friend, whom I believed was in the washroom, came up to me just in time to hear me bitch and complain about not having batteries to take this gorgeous picture before me. He quickly shut me up by handing me a pack of batteries he had bought at a stand somewhere. YAY!!! Back to picture taking for me. I'll take a picture of Big Ben Please. And one of The London Eye, thank you very much. Lookit me being a tourist!, I squealed.

Eventually after wandering through the streets in Camden Market and Covent Garden, and into shops where I couldn't possibly afford anything, we headed home to warm up.

Sunday was spent outdoors at Eagle Heights Bird of Prey Centre where I got to see all kinds of beautiful birds, large and small. Talk about a great photo opportunity! I got up close to a bald eagle, a vulture, a few falcons and even a snowy owl that posed for a Harry Potter poster!

My friends and I sat for several hours and watched and learned as eagles soared over our heads and sometimes, on a whim, landed on the bench and sat beside us. The audience was small which made for a nice intimate environment, conducive to asking lots of questions and getting nice and close to the birds without scaring them. It was an experience I would highly recommend to anyone. You don't truly understand how large and magnificent these creatures are until you get up close.

And that brings another week to an end here in England..... and at the end of this week comes the end of my adventure. Yes, I have decided to return home after 3 months of world travelling that has taken me through Hungary, Israel, England and a quickstop to France on the way home. At some point I have to step back into the real world and find a job again to pay off the debts of my travels. I decided it would be far more wise to do this now when I can readily find work during Christmas, rather than later, when no one is hiring (January and February are known for being the worst months of the year to look for work).

I will not be returning to my life as I knew it in August... my friend is living in my apartment and is awaiting my return to the workforce so that we can get a 2 bedroom apartment together. Hopefully having a roommate will help me bring down costs as I try to pay back my travelling debt. For now I am going to have to move back in with my parents (*gulp*) while I look for work. You can see where this will be a great motivator for finding work! ;-)

So for this week, I am going to try and work on my friend's laptop before I go and watch as much of season 2 of "24" as I can. I saw my second movie in 3 months (Saw 2) and hope to catch Harry Potter here before I go; it only seems right that I see it in England, ya know?

Saturday morning, bright and early, I fly to Paris and then home to Toronto. My parents are beyond excited.

showing some blogger lovin'..
Hey everyone! It's Mulder's birthday today!!! Go wish him a happy birthday over on his blog!


Monday, November 14, 2005
from Israel to England
Pull up a chair and get comfortable, kids... I have a very amusing travel story to share with you. It involves the joy of Israeli airport security, something that has not always been my friend in the past. I did not, however, learn from prior lessons...

The scene: Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. I arrived 4 hours early, got through security and check-in in 3 hours and had some time to kill. I bought some magazines, a drink and snack, and found a telephone to call home so I could tell my mom I was okay and to wish my dad a happy birthday. By the time I got off the telephone with them I had about 10 mins to go through another round of quick security in the area leading to the gates, and to find my plane at Gate 23.

I hustled to find the bathroom around the corner and bee-lined for the first stall. After successfully finishing "my business" I went to flush the toilet, but upon doing so I found that it had one of those excellent foot flush handles, not the disgusting ones you flush by hand that no one wants to use. I have seen one or two of these before but I decided I wanted to document this. Yes, you should know by now that I like to take strange pictures of everything from food to payphones to toilets, and to put them up on my blog. I have taken pics of toilets in Holland, Budapest, Canada (the casino) and the US, and apparently I needed a pic of that toilet in Israel. I quickly pulled my camera out of my knapsack and pulled the lens cap off. For a moment I thought this might look odd to anyone else who might be in the bathroom and I thought I had heard one other person mulling around. I readied my camera and was about to take the shot when.... hm, it looks like I'll need to use my flash, I thought. Against my better judgment I opened up the flash on my camera and for a fleeting moment my brain tried to tell me that this was a bad plan. Not only would it seem odd to anyone else that might be in the bathroom, to see a flash go off in a stall, I didn't know where that other person was in the bathroom.

Shutting that little voice out I decided to snap the picture quickly, promptly tossed the camera in my bag and cleared out as fast as I could. As I headed to the sink to wash my hands (losing precious seconds for escaping) I heard someone flush a toilet in the stall that was right beside mine. As I washed my hands the girl came out and walked towards me. Then I heard her speak... "Slicha..." ('excuse me..'). I turned around and saw that she was a security guard. Just. My. Luck.

I immediately told her in Hebrew that I don't speak Hebrew and she then asked in English why I was taking a picture in the bathroom. Feeling myself blushing I tried to explain why I did it but the growing smile across my face began to make me look very guilty indeed. Just as a note to anyone else who might find him or herself in trouble with Israeli security: wipe the sheepish smile off your face when trying to talk your way out of a sticky situation. This was my number one problem because I simply couldn't do it. I had a grin from ear to ear because I just could NOT believe I got myself into such a dumb, if not mildly embarrassing, situation. I felt like I was on some kind of comedy/reality show, because you just can't make this sort of thing up. Yet here I was in the middle of a hilarious scenario that I foolishly managed to create for myself and I couldn't stop smirking.

After giving my explanation to the security girl in the washroom she asked for my passport and boarding pass. My grin, shame on me, grew wider. Was I really being asked for my passport in a BATHROOM?? I gave her what she wanted and tried to collect myself while she read it. She asked why I was returning to Israel, to which I winced.... because I wasn't, though the ticket makes it look like I am. You see, when the ticket agent issued the ticket I noticed it had a return date on it of Dec 5, which I asked about. I was told it had something to do with needing to fill out all the fields in the form on the computer in order to complete it, so they just pick a date, but you are actually only paying for the one way (since it was a one way ticket). Seemed strange to me, and little did I know how strange it would look to security (which I had already cleared 3 times already).

"Come with me" said the girl, to which I dropped my head and sighed, gathered up my knapsack, and tried to hide my face as it was becoming clear that the grin across it was certainly NOT helping the situation. I was lead back all the way through the airport to the check in area and another security girl. They spoke in Hebrew, and I tried my best luck to look innocent (which was going well until I heard the girl say "bathroom" in Hebrew and I cracked up again). The second girl looked up at me, stone faced, and asked what I was doing in the bathroom. I repeated the reasons and said that I knew how absurd it sounded but that it was, sadly, the truth. I then asked if she wished to see the picture, to which she said yes. I pulled the camera out and showed her (with a proud smile plastered across my face). She asked what other pictures I had take in the airport to which I laughed and said none (could the smile get ANY bigger on my face?? it was simply hilarious that the ONLY picture I opted to take in the airport was of a TOILET!! what has my life come to??). I scrolled to the next picture on my camera to show her that there were no other airport pictures and the next picture that popped up on my camera was..... a little container of Israeli yogurt. Doing my best to suppress a laugh I said "See?? THESE are the kinds of crazy pics I take! I'm a foreigner! Everything is interesting to me! Toilets! Yogurt! You name it!". Finally she let me go and I ran all the way through the airport to catch my flight.

The smile was soon wiped off my face when I was boarding my Sun D'Or flight along with about 30 Hassidic religious Jews. While my Hebrew is not all that great it wasn't hard for me to pick up on the problem that was causing such a stir with 5 men in the seats surrounding me. That problem..... was me. You see, there were 3 seats in a row in my section and I asked for the aisle seat. The two other seats had been assigned to a couple of the religious men who wanted no part in the idea of sitting next to a girl. Afterall, there is a good chance that we may actually touch. One asked if I would switch seats for one a couple of rows up but I refused because it was a window seat and I specifically wanted an aisle. As time marched on and the plane was nearly full I was approached by one of the flight attendants and asked if I would take a seat at the back of the plane, where there was an aisle seat. Begrudgingly I stood up and made moves to pull down my knapsack from the overhead compartment, buried behind mounds of luggage. The attendant waved me off and said I could pick it up the way out since I would be walking by anyway. Steaming mad at being booted out of my seat because I am a girl and sent back into a section of the plane that was cooking I moved to my new seat. I plunked myself down in my new seat and remarked to the girl beside me that I had been moved because I was a girl. She said "I know, me too". I sat and stewed in the principle of it all during a most uncomfortable 5 hour flight and hated that those religious chaps didn't even bother to say thank you.

When we finally landed after a cramped but mercifully short flight, I practically ran up the aisle to try and get ahead of the pack. When I finally reached my knapsack and pulled it down I saw one of the religious guys who gave me the boot. I gave him an icy glare and when he met my eyes he spoke the only English I had heard from any of them. "Thank you", he said. "Bevakasha" (you're welcome) I answered. And just like that I had to stop being angry. And I did.

The first 3 days here in England have been jammed packed with the usual tourist activities of traveling, exploring and trying to figure the incredibly complex British subway system (aka The Tube). It has been a bit rough going from the warm weather in Israel (on my last day there it was about 23C/73F) to the incredibly chilly weather here in England (ranges from 0C-11C/32F-52F) and I have had to resort to buying a hat and eating roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in order to stay warm. The friend I am staying actually likes to keep his windows a bit open for "fresh air" in this weather, so it's not unusual to see me in my coat and shoes in the apartment. And don't say it, I'm tired of hearing it... yes, I am a Canadian. Yes, I am used to cold. However, in Canada, we like to close the windows when it gets this cold and warm the home a bit. Gives you a chance to get away from the cold, you know?

Anyway, I am loving England thus far (cold weather aside). I find the small town I am in (Theydon Bois/Epping) extremely quaint and enchanting, with it's bakery and deli windows and local pub (The Bull). London has been a fantastic experience as I have wandered the streets and found all kinds of amazing places. I love the look of the city here.

Observations so far:

1) I am doing my best not to step into traffic, but with things reversed and cars driving on the left instead of the right I am finding it difficult to remember which way to look. Luckily, in London, they actually have "Look Left" and "Look Right" painted on the curbs to help people like me.

2) Let me tell ya, I thought Israel had much to be desired in the plumbing department.. but England has it's own crazy quirks. Like separate cold and hot water taps. Not just the little faucet handle you turn, I mean two different water taps. So cold comes out of one and hot the other, they are not flowing together. You want to wash your hands or the dishes? Take your pick... freeze your hands or burn hem. Whee!

3) England has a superior selection of chocolate and other such snacks, hands down. I am trying to work up the nerve to try the "roasted lamb with mint" potato chips.

Ok, today is my first day to catch up on blogging, emailing and just relaxing after running around for three days. I'm going to finish here and then start watching the first season of 24, the show that everyone on the planet seems to be into but me. My friend here has the first and second season on DVD. Yeeha!! Tonight... I am heading to a movie. My second in almost 3 months!

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Well, this is my last post from the Holy Land. Things did not go as planned while I was here, but such is life. I regret nothing, as it was a full experience..... some good and some bad. I'm not sure when I will be back here in Israel so I intend to soak up as much as I can this morning before I leave. My flight leaves at 6:15pm Israeli time but I intend to be there far in advance to make sure there are no problems picking up the ticket and getting through security. I know I am going to pay an awful price for my overweight but there is little I can do about it. When I packed originally I didn't know I would be traveling around on this side of the hemisphere, where weight restrictions are much tighter. MUCH.

Looking back on my time here there are things that make me smile. Chocolate-Banana popsicles. My favourite, and I ate *many* while I was here. In fact, there were countless banana products in this country that made me happy. Halva, a tasty snack made from ground sesame seed and honey (or sugar) and pressed into a flaky chunk of goodness, also makes me smile. As does the cereal here, my favourites being Ugi and Kokomon. And the fact that I managed to have a conversation with a cab driver in my extremely broken Hebrew because he asked that I speak in Hebrew since his English wasn't so good (for the record, his English was light years ahead of mine).

There are also things that perplex me about Israel. Like the fact that the police cars here drive around with their (flashing blue) lights on all the time! Great for visibility, especially if you're a bad guy up to no good. The cost of things here confuses me. Random items seem to be incredibly expensive. Shaving cream is 3 times the cost it is in Canada and is apricot face scrub, toothbrushes and paste. Worst of all cereal, my food of choice, is *extremely* expensive here. For anyone who knows me and my love for breakfast cereal you can understand what a devastating blow this is. When watching TV I am greatly perplexed by the fact that all the shows, even those in Hebrew, have Hebrew subtitles. Why would a show in Hebrew need Hebrew subtitles? And please don't tell me it's for the deaf because that's just not washing with me. Given my time in this country I'm not going to believe that in this is a place that is so forward thinking that it will change ALL TV programming for the .. what? 2? 3%? ... of the population. So why all the Hebrew subtitles??

Then there are the things that drive me crazy in this country. Like the plumbing. The taps for most sinks are miles above the actual sink so that by the time the water gets down to it's target it splashes all over. A little splatter... a little spray. But enough that it can make things messy in short order. And I have yet to find a great shower in this country, but I hear it's possible. Where, I can't be sure. The Post Office. As yes... the Israeli postal system. On more than one occasion I have arrived at the post office only to find it closed. Upon reading the hours of operation on the door I see that it is supposed to close at, say, 4pm. And there I am at 3pm, and find it closed. The hours are erratic at best, with it often closing mid-day only to re-open again for a few hours later in the day. I can't figure it out, but just yesterday I missed it being open again. Stupid me, of course it closes at 1pm! And of course there are a few other things that drove me mad... mosquitoes, flies, talking at volumes that most would consider yelling, etc...

All this rounds out a great experience. I have made some great friends, some that I hope I will keep for life. I have managed to see some old friends again and spend time with my greatest of friends, Mulder. He has welcomed me into his home with open arms and great patience. And he has fed my addiction to TV. :-) I have met some great people, Israelis included. Israelis are often stereotyped for being rude, and sometimes that's true. But it's all part of the charm.

I leave you now with a few pictures:

What I like to call, the breakfast of champions. A cereal (Energy Dreams??? what does that even mean??) with a crunchy yet flaky exterior and a creamy banana interior..... served up in a bowl of banana milk!!!!! Life is good, ladies and gentlemen.

I love the crosswalk/pedestrian crossing signs in Israel. They look so delightfully formal. Just look at that man in his snazzy suit and hat! He looks like a guy who is really going places, so give him room!

I took this picture of these lovely flowers outside a post office. I loved that they had pink and yellow AND white all on one beautiful flower.

As most of you know I love the Hebrew language. Therefore, I love things that I recognize, written in Hebrew. Like this poster for the new movie, The Legend of Zoro. It was the first movie I had seen in over 2 months and I was thrilled to be in a theatre again. I also took a pic of the Harry Potter movie poster but I won't bother you with that.

Now THIS is an amusing thing that I found when out with my friend dark1r, while in Netanya. This goes under the "only in Israel" category. You know those games you seen in carnivals/malls/theatres/bowling alleys in which you pay a small fee to move a crane around within a big glass box in order to choose a prize within and then drop it in the slot so that you may claim your winnings? Usually they have keychains, mini stuffed animals, etc. Well I found one where you can actually win packs of cigarettes. (Dark1r informed me that it was better the week before when the packs had a lighter taped to them, like a bonus prize!)

And last but not least, here is a pic of me enjoying yet another fine banana product, a vanilla-banana milkshake. And it was DAMN good.

Ok, I need to rush to the post office before I miss it yet again. I will drop everyone a line when I get to England to let you know I have arrived at my new adventure. Thanks for all your support and encouragement thus far on my journey, it has meant a lot to me. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
today's post: "mommy, can I keep him??" and "oppressing the blogger"
When last I wrote I was heading off to Jerusalem for the day to meet with Shay, a friend/classmate from the Livnot program, to head to an animal shelter that she has been volunteering at. We met up at the Livnot campus and then headed off to the shelter.

The day was cold, rainy and windy. When we arrived I did my best to brace myself for the heartbreak ahead, for animal shelters, in my experience, are rarely places of happiness. As we entered I was saddened by the conditions under which the staff and volunteers were trying to work. Given the lack of funds/donations the shelter is doing the best it can to manage, but there are 300 dogs and more cats than I could run home with a keep. ;-)

I'm not going to get into this too much because there will be a future post about the shelter, complete with a tour using pictures. But I will say that I did cry as I walked around taking pictures of the dogs outside in muddy pens as the rain came down. The people at this shelter are trying so hard to take care of these lost souls, but they need more help. All I wanted to do was scoop up all the animals and take them somewhere warm and dry. I wanted for them to all have a home, and I felt helpless because I couldn't give it to them. Instead, I tried my best to pet as many of them as I could. They are attention starved and grateful for any love you can give them.

After our time at the shelter (muddy, wet and cold kids that we were) we headed back to the Livnot campus to warm up and find a snack. My friend Shay has some food leftover in the fridge so we snacked on that as we talked about the shelter. Unexpectedly, the founder of the Livnot program walked into the kitchen, gave us a look over, said hi, and left. I told my friend Shay that I wasn't feeling a good vibe from this situation and that I got the distinct impression that I was not welcome.

2 minutes later the founder walked back in and asked to speak to me alone. Oh great, I thought... here it comes. Without getting into details about our conversation (since I don't publish private conversations, though in this case I ought to) let's just say that he expressed his utter dismay.. no, disgust.. at my blog and the things I had said. According him what I had done was wrong. Really? I thought there was the right to freedom of expression. I thought it was my right to say on my own personal blog how I felt about what was going on and about my frustrations at not being heard. In fact, I dare suggest that if we in the program had been heard I wouldn't have had to vent about it on my blog.

But I digress. In a nutshell I was made to feel unwelcome despite being told when I was leaving (by the program leader himself) that I was welcome back anytime, including to his own private home (which I thought was damn fine and upstanding of him). I asked repeatedly if he (the founder in the kitchen with me) wanted me to leave but he was afraid that if he asked me to leave I would blog about how he had thrown me out.

Oh the drama of it all. And oh so passive-aggressive.

I got the point and left shortly thereafter. I was disappointed that I had left the program on a fairly good note and on good terms with the program leader only to have the owner/founder come in at the end and spoil it. All I can say to him (since I'm sure he's reading this now) is that he had better be ready for more bloggers to join the program in the future, and be prepared because those bloggers are going to help keep the program accountable for what's going on. It's time for self reflection to see what's really going on within the organization and stop blaming the problems on the participants. Having talked to people from past programs, these problems are not new. One such person said they encountered the same problems... and they were there in 1997.

There are a lot of bloggers out there, so I won't be the last.... maybe in your interviews you should start asking the potential participants if they have a blog? That way you can weed us loudmouthed troublemakers out right away, hm?
*sigh* So sad.

Anyway! Yesterday was a day of laundry, in preparation for my exit from Israel. Today I am heading to the post office to ship some stuff out and then I'm going to spend some time today repacking my luggage. Tomorrow... I am off to England.

Monday, November 07, 2005
and the countdown begins..
Well, Friday I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes and left the Livnot campus. In some ways it was difficult, in other ways it was a relief. Time to close that chapter and begin a new one..

Friday afternoon I arrived back at Mulder's home and relaxed for a couple of days. Yesterday I decided to head up to a city north of Tel Aviv called Netanya to meet up with Dark1r, a fellow who left the program in the first week. We stayed in touch for the two months following and I wanted to make sure I saw him before I left. It was fantastic to see him again and to get a chance to take in another city before I go. I've never been to Netanya, so we strolled around, got some shawarma and a banana milkshake and enjoyed the rain. A great day and a new experience with the Israeli bus system! hahaha... who knew it took 2 buses to get from Rehovot to Netanya? Not me!

Today I am actually heading back to the Livnot campus in Jerusalem to meet up with my good friend Shay to go and volunteer at an animal shelter she's helping with. I look forward to seeing Shay again though I fear I will want to rescue all the animals and bring them home with me!

I'll try to get online tonight to post some pictures, as unfortunately I don't have time right now.... time to head out in the rain again to catch a bus!

Thursday, November 03, 2005
bloggers to the left of me! bloggers to the right of me! and an announcement..
Oh how I love blogging, let me count the ways....

Yesterday there was some kind of panel discussion going at the Livnot campus and who shows up? None other than Mr. If You Will It, himself! We had come close to running into each other during my stay in Tzfat last month, but this time we managed to finally meet in person and talk for a few minutes. Why oh why, didn't I take a picture?? Ok, just imagine Wil Wheaton with glasses and a British accent and voila! you have him. :-) Anyway, I want to send a shout out to IfYouWillIt and say that it was great to finally meet you in person... perhaps we'll meet later in the month ... somewhere else...?

After that blogger meet up I headed off to Tal Bagels to meet with another blogger, John. Arriving at the cafe early I looked for my favourite table (where I can set up my laptop) to try and write a quick post before the meetup. The problem was, a girl was already sitting at my table. Drat! As I walked by she said "Excuse me! Do you have a blog?". Colour me stunned. Why, yes.... yes I do, I said. She said she had recognized me because she read my blog from time to time! HOW CRAZY IS THAT?? I was recognized! So I'd also like to send a shout out to my new friend Yasmin!

So Yasmin and I struck up a conversation for quite some time (she's from California, here in Israel for 2 years of study) and eventually John joined us (that's him in the pic with me. how adorable is he?!) and from there the three of us carried on like old friends for an hour or two. It was great! *sigh* See how the blogging world brings us all together? :-D When parting ways I talked John into meeting up with me today to do a little walkabout in the Old City (of Jerusalem) and some shopping, but we'll get to that a bit later...

Yesterday was a great day in the Livnot program (wow, did I just say that??). The day started with a tour of the Christian points of interest in Jerusalem, including a Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion, a walk in the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Catholic cemetery was an amazing stop as we visited the grave of Oskar Schindler, the (gentile) man responsible for saving more than 1,000 Jews during the holocaust.

Walking through the Christian Quarter is always entertaining as I look over all the souvenirs for sale, ranging from glow in the dark Marys, to crowns of thorn. Some beautiful, most tacky and cheap. Some a little scary.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is always a fascinating stop. The Christians flock by the hundreds and from all corners of the world. French, Italian, Chinese, Greek, German.... it's amazing to hear all these different languages. We toured the usual areas, the hall where the Last Supper was held, the spot when the cross was placed when Jesus was crucified, the tombs where he was buried (there's disagreement over which one is the true one), and the place where he was laid down to be washed before buried (the stone of anointing). Very interesting stuff, and the crowds were mesmerizing as they would spontaneously burst into hymns from time to time. Haunting and beautiful.

After the Christian tour we headed to Yad Vashem; the Holocaust Museum. Honestly, I am not sure there is much I can say about it... it is an extremely difficult place to tour and my eyes welled with tears much of the time. By the end I sat down on a bench and cried as I watched horrific footage of bulldozers pushing piles of bodies as thin as skeletons into mass graves. It will never leave my mind and it certainly broke my heart. We must never, ever, let something like that happen again. Yet we stand by and let genocide happen everyday.... can anyone say Rwanda? Burundi? Darfur? When will we learn, I wonder.

It was an emotionally draining day to say the least so I was pleased to end it on a happy note by meeting IfYouWillIt and John (and Yasmin!). I needed the emotional lift.

Today was a gorgeous day here in Jerusalem, not too warm not too cold. I talked John into meeting me in the Old City to do some shopping, so at 11am we met up at Jaffa Gate and explored the Muslim and Christian Quarter. That John is such a sweetheart and we had a fabulous time. And that boy from North Carolina has learned to speak Hebrew quite well! I was so impressed!

We walked all around and for the first time I went into the Muslim Quarter. I got a bit nervous when I heard calls to prayer being blasted over loudspeakers all over, but felt reassured when I saw tourists in groups going by. It was different than the other Quarters, mostly in the feel of it and the tone. Most disturbingly many of the children I saw were carrying toy guns. MANY of them. Talk about brainwashing them and preparing them young! It made my blood run cold.

Eventually John and I made our way to a restaurant called Papa Andrea's, and it had a rooftop patio. We enjoyed a beautiful view over the city, shining sun and a cool breeze, and tasty food and beverages. To quote John: "This is making me happy!". Hahaha... John, I adore you!

All in all, it was a great day. I spent the morning at the post office and then back at the campus to pack up some of my stuff to ship home. Yes.... I am leaving the Livnot program, ladies and gentlemen. No, I am not heading home. I am relocating my adventures to another country... England. I have an invitation to stay with a friend and so off I go to find new fun and adventure in the UK. I told the people at Livnot yesterday that I am leaving, and tomorrow I officially pack and leave. While I am relieved to be going, I am sorely going to miss the group known as Livnot 169. It breaks my heart to be separated from my new friends but I suppose that would have happened anyway.

It has trickled down to me that the Livnot staff were considering asking me to leave because they didn't like what I had been saying on my blog. Funny that they would choose to just sweep me under the carpet rather than address the issues I was griping about, though I can't say I am surprised. I hate to say it, but that was their usual way to deal with the problem... get rid of the troublemakers wherever possible! I guess they will be happy to hear I am leaving then...

I was going to delve into what went so wrong in greater detail but I have chosen instead to leave it behind me. I am going to Try and remember the goodtimes over the bad. I am not here to slander the program, for I think there is much that is good about it. But I do believe there is much room for improvement, and that will never come unless they are prepared to look within. I fear that is a long time in coming.

If anyone has found this blog while looking for information on the Livnot programs you may email me with questions and I can even direct you to other program members for a range of answers. I will say that my opinion may steer you away from it, but if someone had told me what goes on behind the scenes I would not have walked away from my life for it. I think it's important you gather opinions from several sources, so do your homework and choose wisely.

Anyway, I have booked my flight for Nov 10th. I will stay with my good friend Mulder until then, and will hopefully see another blogger or two before I go. I hope you stay tuned for my adventures in the land of England.. it promises to be very entertaining!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
back in the Israeli saddle
Well, I am back in Jerusalem after a week's hiatus. Today will be laid back as the group trickles in, returning from their week off. I am currently sitting in Tal Bagels taking advantage of free wireless internet and snacking on some chai tea and a bagel. This will also be the location of choice when I meet up with John tomorrow for a coffee. Yay!! Finally get to meet another blogger! *sigh* If only Sam could join us..

I didn't write yesterday because I was too busy pouting that I was missing Halloween back home. So I hope that everyone had a great one even if I didn't. :-P

Since I don't have much to say I will leave you with a few pictures I have taken over the last week. Just fun stuff from Israel. Enjoy!

One of my favourite things about Israel is it's food products. As many of you know, I am very much in love with cereal, and while I am here in Israel I am given an opportunity to try all kinds of new cereals. Case in point: Crunch cereal, and Bamba (pronounced Bahm-ba) cereal. Now, as you can see, Nestle seems to have much of the market cornered here, as many of the cereals I see are made by them. Crunch is not a cereal I have back in Canada, odd since we have the chocolate bar it's based on. Bamba cereal is also based on a food product and it is the snack of choice among Israeli children (and adults alike!). It has the same shape and consistency of a cheesy puff, but is instead peanut butter flavoured. Sounds gross, and when I first tried them I hated them. Now, 2 months in Israel later, I can't get enough. The cereal was surprisingly good.

Then there are the dairy products of Israel. I have said it before and I will say it again... no one does dairy like the Israelis! Refrigerated puddings and yogurts are my favourites, and the flavours available are simply mind boggling. Yogurt in all flavours, my friends! There's watermelon (see pic), pineapple, rum and raisin, passionfruit, cactus fruit, banana, coconut, apple pie, cheesecake, mocha, and a million other flavours and combinations I can't think of at the moment. I am doing my best to try them all, and have to say that the watermelon was an odd one. It was pink coloured and had little bits of watermelon throughout. And banana is always a favourite here as I eat *everything* banana flavoured, and this country has plenty of that to go around. Banana flavoured gum, ice cream, cereal, candy, milk..... ah, life is good.

Here's a crazy Volvo I have seen in Rehovot last year and now this year too. It has all kinds of flags painted all over it (with special attention given to the US and Israeli flag, on the hood!) and on the side, along the door, it says "No more war in the new world". Interesting car with an interesting statement...

Here we have the creepiest mannequins I have ever seen in a store window (and I've seen some scary ones in this country!). Check it out! Bear head? Check. Bear hands? Check. HUMAN LEGS AND FEET??? Check! Cuh-reepy!

And of course, here's a care package from home! AWWWWWW... my mom sent me candy and blister treatment for my feet! LOL! Just as I requested. And a few goodies from my folks back at work... bears and candy and letters. Makes me miss everyone back home when I get goodies like this. Even postcards depicting Toronto make me miss home!!

Anyway, that's it for this installment of "random pictures from Israel". Stay tuned in the coming days for an announcement of things to come..