Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Photos: New York City High Line

This past November I visited one of the finest examples of urban renewal and the greening of cities—New York City's High Line. The High Line is a 1-mile (1.6 km) linear park built on the former elevated tracks of the New York Central Railroad's West Side Line on the lower west side of Manhattan.

The recycling of the railway into an aerial greenway has revitalized surrounding neighborhoods and turned what was once an abandoned, blighted industrial area into one of New York City's biggest and greenest tourist attractions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Up in the Air: Tel Aviv to Istanbul to Washington, D.C.

A Turkish Airlines plane at Istanbul Atatürk International Airport.
August 28-29, 2011 -- After traveling around Europe by train and Israel by bus for one-and-a-half months this past summer, including working on a kibbutz for two-and-a-half weeks, it was time to fly back home to the United States. I took Turkish Airlines from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport to Istanbul Atatürk International Airport and then an 11 hour flight from Istanbul to Washington Dulles International Airport.

An airport shuttle picked me up at my hostel in Jerusalem very late at night and made the rounds to pick up more people—all Orthodox Jews—in different neighborhoods in West Jerusalem. We then drove to Ben Gurion, the best-secured airport in the world. Being the only non-Orthodox passenger in the van, I was singled out with questions upon arriving to the security checkpoint just to drive into the airport. The security guy asked me to take off my hat and then asked me where I was going. I was tired and irritated, and answered loudly "Washington, D.C.!" Once you finally enter Ben Gurion, you must wait in a long security line where you will be asked pointed and personal questions to make sure you don't have any bad intentions once you board that plane. Your luggage will also be thoroughly examined and, as in my case, will sometimes be double checked by airport security. Sometimes passengers will be taken for another line of questioning and inspection if the authorities are not satisfied with the first round of questioning. While it can be a maddeningly frustrating and humiliating experience, Ben Gurion will not take any chances when it comes to security, which is why it is the safest airport in the world to fly into and out of. It is not a pleasant experience to be looked at with suspicion, especially at 4 a.m. before a long flight. But it is the reality of Israel and there is some comfort in knowing all the intense security precautions that took place once you finally board that flight. It was around a two hour flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Summer 2011: Jerusalem, Israel

August 19-29, 2011 -- The last stop on my summer 2011 journey through Europe and Israel was my favorite city in the world—Jerusalem. I arrived on a bus from Beersheba on the day the ancient city launched its first modern light rail line. In the city of miracles to the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—it is a miracle that light rail is finally rolling along Jaffa Road. The project had been beset by delays and controversies over issues ranging from the route passing through Arab East Jerusalem to accusations of financial mismanagement to archaeological findings during construction.  But these setbacks were overcome and on a warm Friday afternoon in late August, before the stores closed and the streets emptied at sundown for Shabbat, more than 40,000 curious passengers crowded onto the trams free of charge.

Light rail has transformed Jaffa Road—West Jerusalem's main artery from the Old City to Mount Herzl—into a traffic-free, pollution-free, pedestrian paradise. Rumbling buses and honking taxis have been replaced by quiet and clean trams ferrying Jerusalemites to their destinations.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Boarding the Bus: Beersheba to Jerusalem

Passengers hoping to board an already crowded bus on a Friday afternoon at Beersheba Central Bus Station.
August 19, 2011 -- After a couple of days exploring Mitzpe Ramon and Midreshet Ben-Gurion, I was going to travel via bus south to Eilat and then Petra, but a big terrorist attack on the same bus route I was going to take made for a change of plans. The roads were closed around Eilat and the Israeli Defense Forces were advising the public to avoid the area after a well-coordinated ambush near the Egyptian border murdered eight innocent civilians and injured dozens. So instead of soaking up the sun along the Red Sea and visiting Al Khazneh (featured in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"), I took a bus north to Beersheba and then transferred to another bus to Jerusalem.

I crowded onto the packed bus with Israeli soldiers on leave for the hour-and-a-half ride north. Friday afternoons are very busy at Beersheba Central Bus Station because everyone wants to catch the last buses to their destination in order to be able to spend Shabbat dinner with their families and friends. I arrived at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station just in time for the Friday opening of the new light rail line along Jaffa Road and preparations for Shabbat in the Holy City.

Summer 2011: Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

August 17-19, 2011 -- After working on Kibbutz Lahav for two-and-a-half weeks and exploring the nearby city of Beersheba, my next stop in Israel was 85 kilometers (53 miles) south to the small town of Mitzpe Ramon in the heart of the Negev desert. Mitzpe Ramon is a popular tourist destination because the town overlooks the massive Ramon Crater. The crater is actually technically not a crater but the world's largest makhtesh --a geological formation that wasn't impacted by a meteor but instead was created by erosion. I also visited the tomb of Israel's founder and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion near Sde Boker and hiked through Tsin Canyon.

While in Mitzpe Ramon I stayed at the Green Backpackers Hostel, run by Lee and her husband Yoash. The hostel is cozy and clean and offers a free sunset tour of Makhtesh Ramon. The friendly couple was super helpful in providing information about sightseeing and hiking. The hostel is highly recommended if you find yourself needing a place to say in Mitzpe Ramon.