Month: July 2016

Long overdue trip to Israel 1.


In my youth I had posters of Bruce Lee on my bedroom wall, owned a Ninja Suit and practised frequently with Nunchaku sticks (which didn’t end well, but that’s another story).

Another hobby of mine was “survivalism”. It had many meanings at the time, but to me it was, what we’d call today, Bushcraft (something which still fascinates me to this day).

A magazine I used to read at the time was called Survival weaponry and techniques. It had all sort of interesting things in there, but one guy wrote about military stuff called Robert C. Waddington.

He wrote a lot about Israel, its military tactics and history. I became fascinated by it.

Problem was, as a travel destination it was “dangerous” and my mum forbid me to go there in case I “got killed”.

Mum had passed a few years earlier, so I decided it was time to go and see this amazing place.

Dan and Glenn were coming, but in the weeks running up to the trip there were tensions in the area with the result that an airport bus was bombed resulting in minor injuries.

The message was clear, this wasn’t a trip to Ibiza. Dan and Glenn (understandably) both pulled out of the trip.

Having waited so long, I’d made my mind up, so I went on my own.

I flew Jet2 from Manchester.

Nearly everyone else on the plane was either an orthodox Jew or a member of the cabin staff.

Lots of people had been frightened off which meant the seat next to me was free so  I could put magazines on it, stretch out and contemplate the wisdom of what I was doing.


The main goal of my trip was to visit Jerusalem (although I’m not religious).

Since the plane landed in the evening in Tel Aviv, I’d decided to have an overnight there and travel to Jerusalem in the morning (I now realise that you can just jump in a taxi direct to Jerusalem from the airport).

I could hear English football being discussed on the radio in my taxi as I was driven to my hotel.

It was right next door to the well fortified and guarded American embassy. When the driver asked for directions, the heavily armed guards told him to keep moving.


I found the beachfront hotel and I checked in.

It was normal sort of hostel fair, I had my own room, with a bed to sleep in, a bed to organise my stuff on and a spare.


I decided to head out and explore. I headed up the promenade to Old Jaffa.

On the way I passed the Irgun museum (which was obviously closed at 10pm at night).

I got to Jaffa. I’d heard the place was really nice and wanted to explore but it was late at night, and I know that the first 24hrs in any country are the highest risk.


Instead, I found a nice bar by the ocean.

Since it had taken me 28 years to get here, I had this photo taken of me enjoying a pint.

I had a 2nd drink, review my guidebook and read a few facts about Isreal.

The British mandate of the area then called Palastine, ended at midnight on the 14th of May 1948.

The following day, a coalition of Arab army’s attacked and the free state of Israel was declared.

It has the highest standard of living the middle east and a population of 8,502,900 of which 74.9% are Jewish.

I wandered back along the seafront and got some rest.


In the morning, I realised that “The Beachfront hostel” was facing the ocean and waterfront and did indeed have sun loungers right outside as I’d seen on their website.

What they’d failed to mention was there’s a busy road between them and the beach and if you’d “sat out” with your Tequila, you’d be 80 metres from any sand 🙂


I wandered along the waterfront. The sun was out now, and It was a beautiful day.


I wanted to explore Jaffa in daylight.


There wasn’t anything specific to see in Jaffa, it was more like you went there, wandered around and soaked up the atmosphere.

I found a nice spot, had some coffee by the ocean and then wandered back in to central Tel Aviv to to see what I could find.


I found the statue to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin.

Its on the spot where he was assassinated in 1995 by a right wing extremist unhappy at the Oslo accords.

From his early days in the Irgun, he had been a soldier at every level for 28 years of his life yet he’d chosen to embrace peace .

He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat,

The inscription on the statue says “His legacy will be peace”.


Starting to feel hungry, I head for Macdonalds.

I frequently eat at Macdonalds while travelling, and some people seem surprised.

Thing is, I’m on the move and want to explore and see things. Macdonalds is reasonably cheap, usually quick and you know what your going to get. I use the wifi to check my email and I’m on my way in 15 minutes.


After walking around the busy city centre, I take some time out and head for Hayarkon park.

I find a nice spot of grass and just sit and enjoy the sunshine.

Heading over to the bus station, to go to Jerusalem, I realise this isn’t going to be easy, its chaos in there.

Long overdue trip to Israel 2.


Instead, I get a taxi (and get ripped off, but what the hey, it least I was on my way.

As we get near to Jerusalem, my driver calls my hotel to get exact directions. There’s some confusion and frowning.

He says, that on the Arab side, why are you going there in an accusatory tone.

Then he pauses and asks where I’m from. Then he smiles, realising I’m not Jewish and says “no problem, tourist, Jew like, Arab like”.

We drive down the street near my hotel and a group of youths is congregating on the corner. As I pay him the money (and he overcharges me) he tells me to keep the money out of site.

They are dishonest he explains, with no hint of irony.


The Mount Olives hotel is, well, on Mount Olive.

As I look down the hill to the old town Jerusalem,  I start to realise just how small the place is.


The people are friendly, but they have a guarded manner to them. Most of the Arabs I meet while there are like this, and I get used to it after a time.

Inside, its clean and tidy, but like something from the 50’s.


But the amazing thing about it, is its practically on top of the church of ascension.

This is the place where many believe Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurection.

I can see it 30 feet from my bedroom window !.


Wandering down the hill near the Garden of Gethsemane.


Outer wall of old Jerusalem.


I’ve included this aerial photo of Jerusalem to give some background.

2400 years old, its been attacked 52 times and besieged 23. Oh and 3 of the worlds main religions are centred around here.

The whole thing is 0.9 square kilometres.


There are 8 gates into Jerusalem.

I enter through the Lion gate, same one used by Israeli paratroopers (55th brigade) when they retook the city during the 6 day war.


The Via Dolorosa starts here just near the Lion gate.

Meaning the way of sorrows, it follows the route that Jesus took on his way to crucifixion.

I’m not religious at all, but try to be open minded.

In this case, there is no basis of any of this in historical fact.

Worse, there is evidence that the route has changed on occaison because a new business opened and they wanted to attract greater footfall.


Down through the winding streets and corridors.


There are 4 distinct quarters in the old town.

Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian.

There was a Moroccan quarter, but it was destroyed to create a plaza near the Western wall after the 6 day war.


The “modernised” Cardo street with shops on either side.

It was here I saw a soldier and a police officer teamed up.

I found out that they typicaly work in pairs, the police officer will have a truncheon and the solder a rifle.

That surprised me as there are places all over the world where police officers are armed, but not here.


Entrance to Jerusalem market in the Christian quarter.


They sell every kind of souvenir and piece of religious tat, but they also sell freshly baked bread as you can see from the picture above.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a major Christian pilgrimage destination since the 4th century.

As a place of worship, its shared between Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics and to a lesser degree Egyptian Copts, Syriacs and Ethiopians.

To avoid arguments, one Muslim family hold the keys to the building, open it in the morning and close it in the evening.


It’s considered to contain the 2 holies sights in Christendom.

Calvary where Christ was crucified and Jesus empty tomb where he was buried and resurrected.

Originally a sort of rock mound and cave, the picture above shows how its been built into a church.


In fighting between the various Christian denominations lead to the Status Quo established in 1853 by the Sultans firman (decree).

No cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of the other five orders

The reality is it’s caused mayhem with the upkeep and repair of the building.

Epitomised by the “Immovable ladder” left over briefly from a painting task, 1853 remains in the exact same spot to this day !.

Worse still, there have been instances where a Monk might move a chair 6 inches and a fist fight breaks out (you can read about it on Wikipedia and actually watch the fighting on youtube !)


Above a picture of the Western wall, with the Dome on the rock in the background.

The rock that the dome sits on is considered significant to all 3 religions as the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The difference is which son.

Christian’s and Jew’s believe the son concerned was Isaac, Muslims believe another son, Ishmael. Which explains where the West Wing episode Isaac & Ishmael gets its name.

The Dome on the rock is located at the visual centre of the platform known as Temple mount. In the Muslim faith, the place of the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Western wall, is literally the western wall of the 2nd Temple and the holiest site in the Jewish religion.

When I was younger I’d heard it referred to as the wailing wall, although this is now considered derogatory.

I had to walk through a metal detector to see the wall, but the people around were good humoured.

I’ve heard that transgender people have been refused entry when theyve been turned away from both the male entrance and the female one.


In 1948 the Arab Israeli war saw Jerusalem split, with Israeli holding west Jerusalem and Jordan holding the old town. The Jordanians closed access to the western wall and Jews were unable to pray there.

In 1967 and the 6 day war, Israeli paratroopers sustained massive casualties as they retook Jerusalem.

The iconic photo above shows Three Israeli commando’s as they arrived at the wall.

Its said that many of them wept openly at the sight of the wall (they had access to the wall for the first time in 20 years, but potentially full control of temple mount, which had been forbidden to them for over 2000 years).

On reaching the wall, their commander, Moshe Dayan said “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again”.

But surprisingly to me, immediately afterwards, Israel would control Jerusalem but within that, signed over control of Muslim & Christian religious sites to the relevant parties.

In another statement he said “To our Arab neighbours we extend, especially at this hour, the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others”.


I’d seen all the things I wanted to at this point, so I was just wandering around exploring.

It was here that I was accosted by an Arab, who asked me where I was from.

I said I was from the UK. He said angrily, your people have strong minds but week stomach’s. You stand by and do nothing when there’s so much you could do to help.

I wanted to say, the same democracy that gives Hezbolla control of the West bank, give me one vote in a country of 60 million.

I wanted to say, one million British people took to the streets to protest the war with Iraq and we went anyway.

But realising where I was and how quickly things can escalate, I just replied that I’m sorry you feel that way and was quickly on my way.


Along the top of the wall, you I could see Western Jerusalem and an area called Yemin Moshe.


I leave through the Jaffa gate and try to unwind.

I’m reminded of a funny story I’d heard.

After retiring, Moshe Dayan took up the hobby of collecting antiques. He toured around Isreal building up his collection, made up of simple things that always cost less than 100 dollars and always paid by check.

He was fairly wealthy, and probably didn’t check his bank balance often. When he did, he found there was more money in his account than expected.

Moshe Dayan was revered by his people and his military work required reading in most officer academy’s around the world.

It was worth more to the antique dealers to have a cheque signed by Moshe Dayan hanging in a frame on the wall of the shop, than the actual money it was worth.


I found Western Jerusalem modern and spotlessly clean (and a bit dull to be honest).


The internationally famous King David hotel, built in 1929 with 237 rooms and 4 restaurants and bars.

The British government had offices there which were bombed in 1947 by Irgun (Zionist paramilitary organisation) and 91 people died.

Today it is used mostly by visiting dignitaries (I certainly couldn’t afford to stay there !).


After a whole day in a walled city, I yearned for open spaces.

I found this 17 acre park called the Bloomfield garden.

It contains the Herod’s family tomb (which looks like a cave,  but actually isn’t).


I walked back to my hotel to relax.

I’d decided early on, that I wouldn’t be going out on the town during the evening and I’d stay close to home (not just for safety reasons, but I was there on my own, without my friends, so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to).

And that’s when it hit me.I’d seen and done everything I wanted to.

I’d completely miscalculated how long I’d need to spend here, and now I had 2 whole days with nothing to do.

Deciding to read and catch up on some tv I’d loaded onto my laptop.

A bit concerned about homeland (a tv series with a “search for terorists” theme), so I watched it with headphones on.

I worried staff outside might overhear someone in the show saying “is the bomb ready” and in a place like this, they’d innocently contact the security services and a whole host of problems would begin with a flash-bang being thrown into my room !.


They served simple food in the hotel and had a fridge with Carlsburg.

Overall, a pretty relaxing 2 days/evenings.

Finally time to fly home, I say goodbye to the hotel staff, give them a tip and they get me a taxi to the airport (which is half the price I paid to get out here !).


Flying out from terminal 3 David Ben Gurion airport, the most secure airport terminal in the world (they use metal detectors and x-ray machines, but they’re famous for careful hand searching of every bag).

My security interview on leaving is extensive. I can see from your passport that you’ve visited Morocco. Do you have friends there ?.

You spent time in Malaysia, what was your reason for visiting ?

I answered all the questions politely and honestly, just like I would in any airport including 1 in Britain.

Not long afterwards, I’m flying home.

In summary. I felt safe the whole time I was there, but to be honest, I felt uncomfortable most of the time too.

Day trip to Helsinki.


Finland is a country I’ve always wanted to visit.

Problem is, it’s never really been “near” anywhere I was going, so has sort of drifted down my list of places to see.

While planning a trip to Tallinn in Estonia, I realised that Helsinki was just across the water. Two destinations for 1 flight, the kind of equation I like.


We bought early tickets the day before and arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to the port.

The crossing normally take 2 hours 25 minutes.

I went out on deck for a look around.


Inside the ferry cabin was bright and warm and had first rate wi fi for free.

I had a horrendous cold and couldn’t stop coughing and sneezing.

To be honest, I could have done without a 6am start and another 3 hrs in a warm bed.

It was one of those situations where if you don’t go then, when will you ? (my first trip to Gibraltar is a good example, it was 11 years before I got back there).

A quick blast of Jack Daniels helped (although the barman looked surprised I was drinking it at 7:30 in the morning).


We arrive at the Helsinki Olympia terminal.


As I was walking across the gantry I saw this fascinating sight outside the glass of the walkway.

A seagull had obviously collected pieces of nylon and wire and constructed a nest. It looked like a normal nest, but had a distinct “science fiction” feel.


Scandinavia has a well deserved reputation for being expensive.

So instead of getting a taxi, we walked into town (it also gave us a chance to acclimatise and get a feel for the place).

There was a crispy chill in the air, but otherwise a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky.


The first thing I realised while researching Helsinki, was it doesn’t have many “must see” sites.

So, if your a Japanese style “tick the box” sort of traveller, you may find it disappointing. Its more of a “experience it” kind of place.

That said, there’s stuff to do and see everywhere (even Salford 🙂 so our first stop was Stockmann’s department store.

The clock in the main entrance is nicknamed the Stocky Clock and is a popular meeting place in the city.


Helsinki central railways station.

In the end, its a railway station and you go there to get trains. But, it has 2 interesting things about it.

1. In a BBC competition, it was voted in the top 10 best railway stations in the world.

2. It features an exclusive waiting room, specifically for the president of Finland.


I took this picture just because I love the idea of a hotel called Kamp.

It’s also one of the major attractions of the city.


I passed this shop, and it reminded me of 1 of Finland’s main exports (before the burning platform speech that is).

For over a decade, Nokia set the standard for mobile phones (I think I owned 5 over the years).

Smart phones from Apple and Android started flying of the shelves, but I remember for a long time whenever you saw a policemen or a fireman they had a Nokia. In short, if lives were at stake, it was Nokia.


The Finish national theatre with some complete strangers ruining my shot.


After the hustle and bustle of the city, we find a nice park next to Mikael Agricola church tower.

A good opportunity for me to consult my guidebook and Dan to smoke a cigarette.


The thing that everyone comes here to see.

Helsinki Cathedral.


We head to the waterfront and market square.

Only been here an hour of two and we feel like we’ve seen everything.

A boat trip is suggested…


Suomenlinna (a Unesco world heritage site) is suggested.

We buy tickets and get on board.


As it sails away from the coast, we get this view back towards the waterfront.


Suomenlinna is technically part of Helsinki (although its an island) and has 900 permanent residents.

Over 350 people who live on the mainland come here to work each day, so instead of a sort of museum like Robben Island, this is a living, thriving colony.

We got cold, so have retired downstairs as we pull into the dock.


Originally kitted out as a sea fortress, its made up of 6 small islands which are connected by bridges (a bit like Orkney in that way).

A naval trading base is across this bridge, and behind me, Dan does another “photo bomb”.


It has all the normal amenities you’d expect, including a fire engine, which had be brought over by ferry and transported using a crane.


Most of the houses were made of wood in the classic Scandinavian style like this one.

I wondered how the cold weather and harsh climate would affect them.

In terms of maintaining the island, it has a penal labour colony for young offenders.

They can have their sentences reduced if they agree to live in basic accommodation on the island and help with maintenance work from cutting down trees to painting walls.


A naval officer training academy is located on the island as illustrated by these 3 parked up boats.


As you can imagine its very popular with tourists, so an additional attraction is the Vesikko.

It’s Finland’s last remaining submarine (so since its above water, you can presume that they dont have submarines any more 🙂


I explored some of the underground tunnels beneath the island which was pretty exciting.

In 1982 the tunnels were extend back to Helsinki to provide heating, water and electricity.

Interestingly, from 1990 the tunnel was modified for use of emergency transport.

On the transport subject, the Finnish postal service have test delivery by drones from the mainland.


 If only I’d known.

They actually have a youth hostel on the island that I’d love to have stayed on


Our boat arrives to take us back to Helsinki.

A pretty hectic day comes to an end. A couple of pints as we walk back to the ferry port and then were on our way back to Tallinn.