Friday, March 27, 2015

Travelling the Holy Land

I think it is clear that I could not make a career out of travel writing, as I am too busy enjoying the experience to take time to write it down! This post on Israel comes a few weeks late. After spending nine wonderful days enjoying Jordan, we flew from Amman to Tel Aviv, Israel. It is possible to cross by land but it looked more complicated so we opted to fly. We rented a fabulous Airbnb apartment centrally located in the heart of the city and short walk to the Frishman Beach. The apartment building was modest which hid the amazing flat, well equipped for any traveller! The first thing we did was tackle the mountain of laundry that accumulated during our adventures in Jordan. We love staying in Airbnb apartments as it gives a chance to live in a local neighbourhood, has convenient amenities and is generally far cheaper than a hotel.

On our first day out we headed to Dizengoff Centre, a large mall, in search of a local SIM card for my phone, in order to have affordable internet and cellular access with out any roaming fees. All of the signage is generally in Hebrew but we found everyone we encountered also spoke English and were happy to assist us in finding our way. We found a mobile shop in the centre and purchased a Orange brand SIM card, which the clerk cheerfully installed and set up. The SIM card was a valuable asset on our trip and allowed us to use GPS maps to navigate, find vegan friendly spots on the HappyCow app, look up attractions, post photos etc. 

We spent a lot of time walking the streets of Tel Aviv taking in the local scene. I was pleasantly surprised by the urban design including, public squares, gathering places, parks, benches, green space, public art etc. Two very interesting streets are Chen and Rothschild Boulevards, which both have a large green space median down the centre for walking, cycling and Flâneuring. We spent a great deal of time up and down these boulevards, and similar ones, in our wandering. Tel Aviv could teach many other cities about the importance of space to rest, visit, and watch the world go by. Tel Avi had terrific benches in wonderful configurations, including beach loungers set up in some parks. Oh and many many wonderful cats, some of them taking over the benches.


We stumbled upon a weekly outdoor antique market near Dizengoff Square, which is built around a large artwork; "Fire and Water Fountain", a fountain and kinetic sculpture that plays music, by the artist Yaakov Agam.  We purchased a small antique metal art tile and collection of vintage, woodcut, prints by the Israeli artist; Jacob Pins. We explored many diverse areas of Tel Aviv including the crowded streets of Carmel Market, filled with fruits, vegetables, and assorted wares, and the cobblestone streets, surrounded by stone old buildings in Old Jaffa. "Jaffa has been one of the major port cities of the Mediterranean Sea for eons. Most archeologists believe that some kind of town existed on these parts ever since 7,000 years ago, and that this town had an active port since the Bronze Age." (source: http://www.cityguide.co.il/tel-aviv-areas/south/jaffa/). 

Carmel Market

We also spent a great deal of time exploring fabulous museums including: Ilana Goor MuseumTel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, and the Design Museum Holon. The Ilana Goor museum was very unique as it is also the residence of the artist Ilana Goor and is filled with her own art work plus her extensive collection of other artists' work. The house had a very passionate and eccentric feeling to it. All areas, except her private bedroom, were open for visitors to explore. We purposefully sought out this museum as we learned that she had sculpture from Galya Tarmu, who painted a painting we were fortunate to have purchased in a Las Vegas antique shop. When we arrived at the museum we were pleasantly surprised to find four art works by Galya! The Tel Aviv Museum of Art had a diverse permanent collection of contemporary art with pieces from Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, Max Ernst, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, to name just a few. There was also a fascinating special installation by Tom Friedman called "Up in the Air." You can see a video below:



Tel Aviv is also home to the "White City of Tel Aviv" a UNESCO Heritage Site filled with unique Bauhaus style buildings. "Tel Aviv has the largest concentration in the world of buildings built in the "International Style". This style was brought to Tel Aviv in the beginning of the 1930's by European graduates of European architecture schools. Their source of inspiration was the modern architecture movement dominant in Europe in the 1920's. The main principles of the modern movement are – architecture is an expression of volume and not mass, asymmetrical composition and regular repetition instead of classic symmetry, avoidance of all decorations that do not have a useful purpose." (Source: http://www.white-city.co.il/english/index.htm). We enjoyed an informative walking tour of some of the area via the Bauhaus Centre


No trip to the region is complete without exploring some of the religious sites. Even as Atheists we appreciate the history and religious importance of the region. We booked a private tour with Rent a Guide Israel Tours to see Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The private tour was in a comfortable van and allowed us to go at our own pace. Our guide Ofer was very knowledgeable about the history, cultures and religions in the region. We started the tour in the Jerusalem Old City which is divided into four quadrants; Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim. We spent the hours visiting many ornate churches, wandering side roads and browsing market stalls. 


We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site of Jesus's crucification and the tomb where he was said to have been buried. We toured the Cenacle which is where the Last Supper was said to have occurred. We also visited the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall); "It is a relatively small western segment of the walls surrounding the area called the Temple Mount (or Har Habayit) by Jews, Christians and most Western sources, and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (Al-Haram ash-Sharīf)" (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall). It is an important site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Temple Mount is an important religious site within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Dome of the Rock "is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna. The Dome of the Rock is now one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture.[1] It has been called 'Jerusalem's most recognizable landmark'.[2] The octagonal plan of the structure may have been influenced by the Byzantine Chapel of St Mary (also known as Kathisma and al-Qadismu) built between 451 and 458 on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.[3] The site's significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims" (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock). 

Western Wall

After Jerusalem we headed to Bethlehem. When we arrived we changed to a Palestinian tour guide who took us through the Israeli West Bank barrier separating the State of Palestine from Israel. On the other side we took a car past the wall, covered in graffiti and political slogans to Manger Square, which sits in front of the Church of Nativity. "The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem, Palestine. The church was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth" (source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Nativity) We explored the church and viewed the site where Jesus was born, which is marked with a silver star on the floor (seen in the photo below). The church is very ornate inside and was undergoing painstaking restorations in some portions. We toured some of the surrounding buildings and ended our tour at a very nice gift shop filled with religious items, souvenirs and local olive wood handicrafts. After shopping we went back through the security gates in the wall and re-united with our original guide. All of the people we met on our tours of both cities were friendly and welcoming. 

Church of Nativity

Israeli West Bank Barrier


We loved the week we spent in this ancient region and I dearly wish for peace and prosperity for all. 



















Monday, March 2, 2015

Jordan Vegan Eats

When travelling we check out the traditional foods for items that are naturally vegan. Luckily Jordanian Cuisine has many vegan options. In Jordan we enjoyed hummus, falafel, foul (a mix of fava beans and spices), pita bread, Fattoush salad, tabouleh salad, baba ghanoush, olives, and diverse fruits!

In Amman we found a vegetarian restaurant on HappyCow; Hashem. It is a busy spot with outside seating. There is no menu but they come by and take your order which can be a combination of the following; hummus, foul, falafel, pita. It is served with a side of onions, mint and tomatoes. I have never tried hummus with mint before and it was delicious! It was extremely cheap and some of the best hummus and falafel I've ever had!


However, there is also a lot of dishes with meat or dairy so we often found ourselves eating a combination of the hummus, salads, falafel, assorted dips and pita for three meals a day. I had never considered falafel as a breakfast food before!

While in the region we also enjoyed Turkish Delight, a sweet fruit jelly, and Turkish coffee infused with cardamon.
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Dead Sea

We began our time in the Dead Sea area by relaxing at the tranquil Evason Hotsprings Hotel. We spent our time relaxing in the thermal pool fed by the natural hot springs.





The next portion we enjoyed checking out the Dead Sea while staying at the adjacent Kempinski Hotel. The pool was great and overlooked the Sea. Floating in the Dead Sea was like nothing I've ever experienced! It was like being suspended in pudding. We were rubbed with Dead Sea mud which reportedly has healing properties. Sadly the Dead Sea is under threat of drying up.



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Petra




We took a taxi from our Amman hotel to the airport to pick up our rental car. We decided it would be easiest to rent from the airport which is outside of the city. We had reserved a Mazda 3 but ended up with a type we've never heard of; Ssangyong! The trip to Petra was easy, with easy to access gas stations (but always keep a full tank as stations are harder to find in smaller areas), well maintained highways, good signage and GPS on my phone. It's surreal to drive down the highway and just see camels hanging out. We had a few dogs try to chase us but happily we didn't run any over!

Once we arrived in Petra we found our hotel, Movenpick, right near the gates to Petra. Our room was nice with a large patio. The lobby reminded me of a luxurious hotel of a bygone era. Because it is off season there is a lot less tourists, and the cooler temperatures are perfect for hiking.

On the advice of a Land Lopers article we decided against going to the Petra at night event. Instead, We purchased a 2 day pass at a cost of 55 Jordan Dinar per person. After the first night we were up early before the crowds to explore Petra. This turned out to be a great plan, we enjoyed the hike and sights with hardly any other tourists. The hike begins immediately with many ancient carvings, cave dwellings and tombs. As you pass through the Siq you begin to glimpse the magnificent Treasury Building, which is actually a mausoleum. We opted to hike up to The Monastery, actually a tomb, as well. The hike is worth it! At the top we rested with fresh fruit juice, friendly cats and enjoyed the view. Food, drinks and trinkets are available in spots scattered through out Petra. The second day we hiked up to another mountain top and took in the view of the amphitheatre.

After three nights in Petra we jumped in the rental car to head to our next destination near the Dead Sea. The trip should have been about three hours but took us five thanks to getting lost in the town of Tafila. After trying to find the turn off four times, going down a one way the wrong way, and traversing across the centre of town three times we had to concede that google maps was as confused as us. The alleged turn off existed only in GPS. Of course all this heavy GPS use left us with an almost depleted iPhone battery and still a long way to go to our destination. We stopped in town and after possibly illegal parking in a bus terminal, a lot of sign language, and two purchases we found a car charging adapter for the cigarette lighter. (The cars built in USB charger is apparently just for show). A local pointed us in the general direction to get back on the right route. We drove out of town and took the turn off he had described. We figured at least it seemed to be heading towards the Dead Sea, in all honesty we were driving more by "feel" at this point. We started to traverse an extremely winding road, carved into the side of a mountain, that dropped alarmingly in elevation as we drove. As we got to the bottom GPS caught up and we found ourselves headed in the right direction on the highway adjacent to the Dead Sea. From there we easily found out next stop; Evason Ma'an Hotsprings.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Adventures in Amman

We are in Amman for two nights. We started our first morning with a walk to downtown Amman. On the way we found a cellular dealer and picked up a SIM card so we can easily stay connected and most importantly use GPS.

We walked over 12kms and thanks to the hilly landscape the equivalent of 34 flights of stairs. We checked out the impressive Roman ruins amphitheatre built in 138-161 AD.




We also toured the fantastic Jordan Automobile Museum. The collection was amazing containing cars we've never seen elsewhere.










Now we are off to Petra in our rental car!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Calgary Vegan Delights!

Heart's Choices recently opened up their new Vegan Thai Cafe and grocery. They have fantastic meals, including my favourite dish; satay skewers with a peanut sauce. As well they have vegan cakes and desserts from Purple Pastry Chef and vegan chocolate bars from Sjaak's and Go Max Go Foods. In addition they sell hand crafted, local made, cultured cashew based vegan cheese from Slim Feast.




My regular go to restaurant is the very tasty all vegetarian (and mostly vegan) Tamarind Vietnamese Grill & Noodle House. Favourite dishes include: Deep fried wonton, Crispy spring rolls, Tamarind house special noodle soup (Pho Dac Biet), and Pad thai. Generous portions, affordable prices and lovely staff!




My favourite coffee shop, Phil and Sebastian, often have a vegan muffin or cake donut at the Mission and Marda Loop locations I frequent. Speaking of donuts, did you know you can also advance order vegan doughnuts from Jelly Modern Doughnuts? Make a great birthday surprise sure to delight the vegan in your life!




Fresh pressed juices have exploded on the scene in Calgary with many different purveyors. I've enjoyed Well Juicery (also found at Phil and Sebastian) and my all time favourite Cru Juice. (Cru also has an amazing nut based milk with vanilla bean.) Cru Juice is available from their store front and various spots around town including the little neighbourhood bodega and caterer Our Daily Brett. Our Daily Brett does a great job remembering the vegans and often has a section of vegan friendly salads, dips, soups and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery breads. They make a new daily meal to go, which is sometimes a vegan friendly offering. Sign up on their website to get their weekly menu.



And you are looking for gluten free and vegan baking look no further than Baked From the Heart! I admit I rarely like GF baking but their moist, tasty mini cupcakes topped with piles of rich icing have swayed me! I'm glad I had some GF guests coming over to have an excuse to check out their wares.



Oh and a little bonus Justin's Dark Peanut Butter Cups are now available at Starbucks!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Calgary Vegan Cheese Options!

I've done a few other posts on vegan finds in Calgary and area including; Alberta's First Vegan Store (Cochrane)Top 10 Vegan Eats in Calgary, & Vegan Field Trip Around Calgary. Well a lot has happened since these posts so it's time for an update. My first update is all about Vegan Cheese!

There are some great new vegan cheese options available in Calgary. A long standing favourite is the soft cashew based vegan cheese by Basic Roots, made locally in Calgary, and available at Community Natural Foods.


A new comer is the lovely Banff based Glowfood, available in dishes at Nourish Bistro, also in Banff, or by special order. Also check out Glowfood on their Facebook page. Glowfood cheeses are beautiful with unique and complex flavours. A wonderful local product. From their website "At Glowfood, we use only the best organic, raw tree nuts to make our vegan cheeses. The spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables and salts that WOW your taste buds are hand selected.  Sourcing quality is really important to us. All we are saying is that . . . we did some research and we ate a lot of cheese. Our quest for greatness spanned far and wide across the continent and this is what we have to show for it. The proof is in the details. Dairy Free. Soy Free. Gluten Free. GMO Free. Bad for you free. Artisan vegan cheese. Cultured in small batches. Hand-crafted by the owner."


Another option to get your vegan cheese fix is to special order the USA based Vtopian Artisan Cheeses (and on Facebook) by phone via the Surrey, BC company, Antony & Sons. Description from the Vtopian website "All of our cheeses are dairy-free, vegan, and handmade in Eugene, Oregon. We enjoy making innovative special cheeses to please palates. All ingredients are organic whenever possible, which is the case for almost all our ingredients. All of our major ingredients, such as cashews, oils, herbs, spices, fruits, and tofu are always organic. The cheddars, bries, and Borealis spread contain probiotic cultures. All the cheddars and bries are gluten free. All the cheddars and bries are soy free except for the Spicy White Cheddar (a small amount in spice) and Dark Chocolate Strawberry Brie (a small amount in chocolate)."

I first tried these cheeses on a trip to Portland, Oregon, and these are definitely some of my favorite vegan cheeses! They even have a seitan cheese ball for the holidays! I recently ordered a great selection and they were easily UPS shipped to me with a cold pack. They arrived in great & tasty condition. They also stock other vegan treats including one of my favourites, Cocomels Caramels, and some faux meat products too.