LA and Amsterdam and Israel

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I’ve arrived in Los Angeles. I flew in last night after a week of zero productivity back in Boston. Well, I guess it was productive in that I finished season 9 of Criminal Minds so I’m all caught up on what’s available via Netflix… that counts for something, right?

Coming to a new city and starting from scratch is so refreshing. I don’t have any bad habits ingrained in me yet and I can try to set better ones. I remember when I first graduated from Macalester and started working at Target – it was such a great time where I was able to get in shape, explore new hobbies such as baking and writing, and do a lot of self reflection. Then Joe came into the picture and while I’ve gotten a lot of good habits from him, I also picked up some bad ones. The lazy ones.

Last summer I had the opportunity to start fresh when I moved to Boston. Something went wrong though. Instead of having a home that encouraged activity, I feel the focal point became the TV and all of a sudden my entire summer disappeared. When Joe would get home from work we’d do fun things and explore the city, but I still managed to put way too much effort into Covert Affairs and Royal Pains.

Not wanting to fall into that same trap, I’ve decided to do something drastic. I am swearing off TV for the summer. Ideally I would find some sort of happy medium where I could watch some programs to stay up on pop culture but not so much that I watch hours upon hours. But I’m sort of like an alcoholic with my TV and I can never have just one.


In other news, Israel was absolutely fantastic. I believe it may be the best international travel experience I’ve ever had. On my way there, I had the opportunity to have an extended layover in Amsterdam. I was able to leave the airport and explore the city for about 8 hours before my next flight. I was a little nervous about managing all of this on my own. I had never been to another country alone before, but from what I had heard, Amsterdam is pretty accessible.

I quickly figured out how to buy my train ticket from the airport to central Amsterdam. I decided to take the Canal Bus, which not only allowed me to hop on and off the boat at places throughout the city, but it was a great way to see the architecture with a guide.

My first stop was the Van Gogh museum. I didn’t know much about him going in, but really enjoyed learning his story through the setting they offered. Afterwards, I went for pancakes at a cafe recommended to me by a friend on Facebook. They had a notice though that their credit card machine wasn’t working, so I made sure I would be able to afford something with the $10 I had. I found a Nutella pancake for $8, which also gave me enough for the tip. Once I got the bill though, I realized they charged me for water. Doh! I had to pull the whole “this is all I have” thing, and I felt like a dumbass. Boo.

Next I attempted to go to the Anne Frank house, but the line was 3 blocks long. Only having a short amount of time I didn’t want to waste it all in line. So, I just went and picked up some postcards and then sat at a rooftop bar and wrote them out to people while sipping a cocktail. It was beautiful and marvelous and the highlight of Amsterdam.

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Israel was something else entirely. The first night we had dinner on the hillside at a beautiful outdoor restaurant. The food was amazing, I got to connect with some friends I haven’t seen in a while as well as meet some new folks. It was so tranquil and a really great way to start a vacation. [Once I got home, I tried texting Joe but it wouldn’t go through. We were kind of in the middle of no where. The next day I had a bunch of texts from him and he was pretty convinced I was dead because he Googled the cell phone reception in Israel and was sure I would have coverage everywhere. Aww…]

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

The next day we went to Jerusalem and did the Old City stuff. I went in the room of The Last Supper, saw the golden dome and where Jesus was crucified… very neat from a historical perspective.

The next day we started out at the Holocaust Museum and then it was time for the Dead Sea. Holy hell it was hot. I think it was over 115 degrees, and we were in the sun and it was humid as crap. I had thrown up a few times from night before (#winning) so I was hating the heat all that much more. It was the most amazing private beach party though. There was a beautiful buffet, slushies, massages, and great music. We got all mudded up and then dipped into the sea. I didn’t actually like being in the water. I floated too much, it tasted terrible (whoops!) and made all my skin sting. I didn’t stay in too long :)

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

That night we slept in tents in the desert. I was woken up at 1am by a jackal, who I thought was a cat at the time. I’m glad I didn’t know the truth then. I was woken up again at 4am because it was time to hike up Masada. Here is my paraphrased story of the land: Masada is this mountain in the desert that is flat on top. Thousands of years ago this guy, Herod, went and built his palace there because he was a nervous SOB and thought everyone was trying to kill him. The mountain top allowed him to watch his back most of the time, and then he had other protections in place for the rest of the time. Then he died and everyone left.

Then, years later, when the Romans took over the temple in Jerusalem, some Jews fled to Masada. They set up camp in Herod’s old palace and were able to use his cisterns as well. Then, after these 900 people spent some time on the mountain, the Romans decided enough was enough and came to get them. But because it is a mountain top it is nearly impossible to take over. Eventually the Romans used Jewish slaves to build an extremely large ramp up to the top where they then broke down the wall.

Not wanting to let their women and children be raped and made into slaves though, the man in charge decided everyone should die instead. So he chose men who would go around and kill all their families and then kill themselves at the end. The next day, when the Romans come in, they found that everyone was dead. They were pissed, I believe. There were a couple holdouts though, which is how we know the story. The Dovekeepers is a historical fiction novel written about Masada and it is an amazing book I would recommend everyone read.

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

Then I rode a camel.

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

The next day I rafted down the Jordan River and then ATVed up to the Syrian border. It was scarier than it sounds. Those red signs on the fence below say “Caution, Mines.” As in, land mines. I only walked where others walked… just in case.

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IMG_1377This is the inside of the former Syrian Military Headquarters. It looks like it was bombed… we took another set of stairs to the roof though, so it wasn’t completely destroyed. Because we hadn’t done enough yet that day, we went to a winery for wine tasting. That evening I was like, wow, how the crap is this my life. It all felt very surreal. But I can definitely see myself looking at Israel a lot differently now and have a new appreciation for the things that are going on in that area of the world.

After that we headed to Tel Aviv where the trip shifted to more of a party. It was amazing. We had the best resort on the beach and went to amazing outdoor restaurants.

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Somehow, I made it out alive.

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