We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I take so many photos, and there are so many beautiful and important sites and sights to see in Paris and the Loire Valley and in Israel, that I've chosen only some from the recent trip with my sons that have the most impacts on me. Please see below the fold.
To see the originals by Rodin in the sculpture garden, across from Napolean's Tomb (although he isn't really buried there) is unique .... especially with the additional thinkers.
Our hotel, the Novotel Les Halles was centrally located within walking distance to all of Paris' sites, a pleasure, and reasonable due to booking months in advance nonrefundable. My favorite site in Paris is the church Sainte Chapelle on Ile de Cite island. Its stained glass is the largest display I've ever seen in any church and magnificent. Like being inside a artist genius light show. Here's a small sample.
In Israel, the Diaspora Museum (museum of the dispersion around the globe of Jews after the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans) was closed for restorations except for a small area of the models of famous European synagogues destroyed by the Nazis and a terrific exhibit of trademark Jewish comedy over the past century. I wasn't as familiar with those from outside the US and even without translation my sides ached from laughter.
I'd never been before and few tourists do go to the Negev of lower Israel, most of its land where only about 3% of the population lives among its harsh and hot landscape. I'm a lover of the deserts in our West, every few yards the flora and fauna change, and with the seasons occasionally blossom with years dormant desert flowers. The Negev is even harsher. The Israeli government is trying to create more hospitable and interesting conditions for tourists. For example, a small hotel is rising alongside the modest cottage to which David Ben Gurion (the George Washington of the renewed Israel) retired. We visited two sets of ruins dating back to the Nabateans, who built Petra, who controlled and grew rich from the Incense Road from Petra (in present day Jordan) to the port in Gaza. These way stations were later taken over by the Romans who built their garrisons and then the Byzantines who built churches atop the Nabateans structures.
We moved on to Mitzpe Ramon in a hotel on the edge of a deep desert valley with a several mile rocky path along the edge. Ibex were plentiful coming up from the valley.
We hired a terrific, friendly, knowledgeable guide-- Moishe -- and his Land Rover necessary to traverse the rough rutted paths (I highly recommend EcoTours) for a 100 Km ride and guidance through the Ramon and Zim valleys, once under an ocean and eroded by occasional rain runoffs through the sandstone. Here's some of the layers of sediment revealed. It may not be as spectacular as some I've seen near Las Vegas, but it is still lovely in its stark beauty. Realize that this is the sorta country the Hebrews wandered for 40-years.
At the end of the day, at the end of Zim valley, over deeply rutted dirt roads, was a small pool of water crowded with regulars who all seemed to also own Land Rovers necessary to the paths at 5-miles per hour. My younger son Gavin jumped right in.
Back to Jerusalem for Gavin's Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall, with an appreciation of the blessing to be there after the sacrifices and faith that took us through the desert mileniums ago and the dispersed persecutions of almost two thousand years.
Gavin accepted the Torah to circle the podium in the ritual of honor, and then read from the ancient Torah to enter the community of adult Jews. Gavin's older brother Jason, whose Bar Mitzvah was also in Jerusalem 5-years ago, joined Gavin in the Ashrei prayer.
Later, we encountered a Korean group at the Wall who had practiced a Hebrew song and dance, to celebrate their trip to the fountainhead of their Christian faith.
24-years ago the Chagall stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital on a hillside in Jerusalem were easily accessible. Now the hospital complex has grown enormously and access is difficult, so we were the only ones there when we visited. A shame, as the Chagall stained glass windows are one of the most glorious in the world. Here's a peek via a panoramic photo.
A closer photo of one.
We went then on a long drive to the Golan in the northeast of Israel for hiking and rafting. Unfortunately, rain prevented that, so after a night we went on to Akko (the Crusader port of entry and exit from the Holy Land). Here's a spice shop in the winding market alleys beneeath the large and mostly intact Crusader fortress.
From there, we went on to Haifa. The Ba'hai Temple is not to be missed, and the small cafes at the base on Ben Gurion Street in the German Colony area, seldom visited by tourists ensconsed far above in the Western hotels, are terrific. If you ever have the chance to eat a meal of Shakshuka, do so.
From there, back to Tel Aviv. The promenade along the Med is widened and better than ever, the cafes and thongs galore. Gavin was photobombed by a delectable blonde.
Next and last stop, an arduous, expensive day long round trip flight to Eilat followed by hassles across the border to Jordan and several hour bus ride to Petra. Interesting, a good guide full of semi-history, yet overhyped. Once is enough.
My personal favorite part of the trip was at the end, on the plane home, the boys, the brothers, drawn closer together for the rest of their lives (even if over a computer game on their iPhones).
Thank you, Bruce. Terrific photos and commentary. Please don't hesitate to post more of both. I lived in Israel for five years in the 1970's, wonderful to see your experience. Yes, your boys are blessed, as are you, by each other. May God continue to hold you and keep you.