Tag Archives: travel tip

The Sea of Galilee

Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.
Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.

Today, the waterfront of Tiberias is a little tacky in spite of the new construction of expensive high rises. We ignored all those little stands selling “authentic” Chinese merchandise and the overpriced tourist restaurants.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus did most of his teaching near the Sea of Galilee. In 135 CE, the Jews moved their cultural center to Tiberias because they were banished from Jerusalem as punishment for rebelling. The Sea of Galilee was a thriving and vibrant hub of civilization, activity and trade until the Byzantines lost control to an Arab Caliphate in the seventh century.

Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park
Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park

We stayed in a very nice one bedroom apartment called Lakeside Kinneret View Apartment that we found on booking.com. Kinneret is another name for the Sea of Galilee. We spent our time climbing the mountains, hiking the trails and fording the streams in the wonderful national parks all around the lake.

The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.
The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.

One of the secrets of using booking.com is to search for a place with your login, but not book it. After an hour or two, they email you with better deals.

We bought jumbo Medjool dates, fresh figs, whole wheat pita, goat cheese, olives and Tishbi merlot wine and found great spots to picnic.

Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal
Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal

There is an excellent Arab restaurant, Tanureen, by the village Migdal a few kilometers north of Tiberias. We spent a long evening there, speaking Hebrew, Italian and English to many of the restaurant guests who we met. We needed many hours to even make a dent in the number of salad dishes served. In Israel, a lot of petrol stations on major roads have restaurants on their property and this was just another fine dining experience behind the gas pumps.

Arbel National Park

View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.
View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.

The cliffs of Arbel offer the most incredible views of the Sea of Galilee. For a little extreme adventure, you can descend the cliffs by a path that coincides with both the Jesus Trail and the Israel National Trail (the trail that traverses the entire length of the country). The descent passes by 17th century cliff dwellings of the Druze. We decided to forego the extreme hike in the 100°F/38°C Israeli summer and save our aging knees for other parks.

Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.
We met Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.

The Majrase
Betiha (Bet Tsayda Valley) Nature Reserve

DSC08950Rather than climbing down cliffs in the hot sun, how about a nice walk in a cool stream in the shade? That’s what we did in the Bet Tseida Forest. This National nature reserve has a trail through the Daliyot stream of cool, refreshing water up to your calves, or maybe thighs in some places depending on how tall you are. It’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Switzerland Forest Scenic Road

Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.
Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.

We drove clockwise around the lake and returned to Tiberias via the Switzerland Forest Scenic Road which, about half way, merges with the Israel National Trail. It has fantastic views of the southern part of the Sea of Galilee. The driver, however, has to keep his eye on the winding road. Same in life, right?

Gan HaShlosha (Sahne) National Park

About an hour drive south from Tiberias as we were on our way to Jerusalem, is another incredible place to spend a hot afternoon in the water. The Amal Stream is a warm water spring that keeps the swimming holes in this national park at a constant temperature. The developed park is a great place to spend the day if you bring your shade structure (or get there before anyone else to claim the shady spots!).

There’s a foot cleaning station on each set of stairs leading into the water. It’s provided free by countless little fish. There is also an old water mill on site, a preferred location for those bathers who arrive early; and The Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology.

Travel Tip: The Israel National Parks Pass is well worth the money if you like trails. We figure that we broke even with just four parks.

We Squawk and Lay an Egg – How Else to Communicate?!

We’re often asked how we can talk to people if we don’t speak Chinese. We gesticulate wildly! We pronounce words tediously slowly in English though I don’t think that helps at all. I think it’s the pantomiming that does it.

IMG_0117I believe the clear, slow enunciation makes them think I’m just another English teacher, common in Taichung. When all else fails, I resort to the inimitable smile. I find that it  goes a long way and saves a failed attempt at communication.

Ivan’s years of acting practice and improvisational theater helps. Overcoming my shynesss together with my powerful need to make myself understood helps me to communicate in a foreign language.

Today, the salesman in the grocery store was preparing sections of guavas for shoppers to taste. He was cutting out and discarding the core of the fruit. The core and seeds are the best and sweetest part of the  guava, but most Taiwanese people won’t eat it. I jokingly admonished him for wasting the preferred part, and motioned that I would have gladly eaten it. Surprisingly, he made sense of what I was trying to say and presented me with a bag of sweet guava cores for free. And here I was thinking that he thought I was just crazy!

“I can’t tell you what it is in English, but it’s my favorite.”

Yesterday, the friendly saleslady who provides samples in the grocery store went on and on in Chinese and I understood nothing. It’s hard to understand anything sometimes if  hand, body gestures or facial expressions aren’t used. I was a happy customer though, because the lady plied me with samples of pork dumplings and taro ice cream while she pattered on about something. She kept pointing at the items in my cart so I  guessed she was exclaiming how healthy I was eating because they were all fruits and vegetables and nothing else.

We so have computer applications that help when when we know that pantomime won’t work. Using my i-Translate app on the phone makes it easy searching for the English word and downloading the translation in myriad languages. There needs to be a lot of trust though, that the translation could be correct in the context, especially with Chinese. There is also a voice function of i-Translate and it can be used by the other party speaking into our device. They can also use the handwriting option of the application if we are entirely stumped with what each other is trying to say.

Sometimes, we need to make ourselves understood when it’s not about the basics like food or finding a bathroom. Technical areas present problems for both sides. We were purchasing a mobile phone package and couldn’t understand what the salesperson was trying to say. She spoke very clearly into my iPad pronouncing the word that she was unable to translate for us. Slapping herself on her chest and referring to herself as a ‘molester’ made us fear how wrong we could be with our own translations at times. And to worsen the situation, our laughter didn’t make the saleslady feel reassured at all. We certainly couldn’t explain what the new block in our conversation was and decided to abort that attempt at communicating altogether.

We now realize that our device could give us translations like the classic Monty Python skit “The Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook”:

Thankfully, we have not had to flap our arms in the air, squawk like a chicken and frantically run into a coop to squat while grocery shopping. Eggs are displayed in plain view in Taiwan. But they do hide eggs behind the counters in small grocery stores in the Czech Republic and you are forced to ask for them whatever way you must.




Same But Different

TaichungHaircut_0044 DentistTaichung_00099

Everyone probably thinks that we’re on permanent vacation. Actually, we’re just living a normal life,  except the scenery keeps changing. Much of what we do is very mundane … like getting a haircut, or getting our teeth cleaned.

The challenge is often figuring out how to get the normal things done when we can’t read or speak the language. It makes shopping fun. (“What is THAT?!”) We also spend time looking for things to do in a place that is not familiar. If we were satisfied with the tourist hotspots, that would be easy. We’re not.

Sometimes we badger the people we meet to tell us what they do, or what interesting places we should go to. The first reply is often the tourist spots. That’s why we badger them!



Don’t Make These 10 Sushi-Eating Faux Pas in Japan

Just about at every turn I unwittingly make flagrant errors in etiquette in Japan.  I’ve wanted to travel to Japan for a long time  but making errors in Japanese etiquette and bringing dishonour to my family has always worried me. I had read a lot about Japanese traditions and etiquette. I believed that I had a handle on many daily customs which are really different from those in my Western world.

I now realise that just in the area of sushi-eating,  I am so woefully boorish as far as manners go. Here are 10 errors I have made that have certainly brought me shame.

Osaka Sushi Chef
“You bring dishonour to your family!”

I’m always offered a hot, wet towel (oshibori) at the start of a meal and I’ve used it to clean my hands as required.  When I’m finished, I leave it in a crumpled heap near the plate. I didn’t know it was to be folded  neatly at the end of the meal. 

I’ve seen people make little holders on which to place chopsticks during a meal when not in use. So I’ve always made that little chopstick stand from the  sleeve that the chopsticks come in. But then I didn’t know  that when I’m not using them, they should be placed parallel to me on the holder or on the soy sauce (shoyu) dish. I then leave them just anywhere when I’m finished with them. But they should be wrapped in the sleeve in which they came, the sleeve folded over at an angle and then placed on the soy sauce dish.

When wooden chopsticks have been provided, I’ve often rubbed them together. I don’t even know why I do it . I’ve just always seen it done. I guess it wasn’t a Japanese I’ve copied because it’s just not done. I don’t know the reason for this but it’s certainly not polite.

I’ve made a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce for dipping. I guess it was not a Japanese who showed me that one either. Wasabi, in an amount that is felt to be a proper balance between fish and wasabi,  is already placed under the fish!  And, only the fish is to be dipped not the rice lest it soak up too much soy sauce.

How many times have I rudely picked up  a piece of food from my partner’s  plate with the end of my chopsticks; the end I put in my mouth already. The end of the chopsticks where they are held is to be used.  This is considered the polite way. I imagine this would be a little messy afterwards.

Who showed me to place the  ginger (gari)  on top of a piece of sushi and eat it together? It is only considered a palate cleanser and to be eaten between bites or between different types of sushi.

I’ve never been able to eat a piece in one bite . Am I imagining or have they been making sushi larger and larger in North America? They are made the proper size in Japan because they should be eaten in one single bite.

donburi sashimi rice bowl
Never stick the chopsticks straight up in the rice.

I did know that chopsticks were never to be stuck in my rice and left sticking straight up. I knew that it resembled incense sticks at a Japanese funeral and so it just should not be done . But, I didn’t know that passing food to another person using chopsticks is also never to be done because it resembles the passing of a deceased relative’s bones at a Japanese funeral.

How many times have I ordered sake with sushi? I always thought they went hand-in-hand like a good cheese plate and wine. But sake is not to be drunk with sushi (or any rice). It can be drunk only with sashimi or before or after a meal. It is believed that since they are both rice based, they don’t complement each other and should not be drunk together. Green tea would be considered a better option with sushi or sashimi. 

Finishing  a meal with a clinking of glasses and toasting  the meal with “Kanpai!” (“empty your cup”) is traditional. Often, when asked what we say in our country,  we rhyme off many of the common toasts from  other countries, “chin chin” among them. Japanese usually titter and laugh at this but I’ve never known why. They would never use this toast because they use chin chin to refer to something best left out of a polite conversation (a certain male body part).  Who knew?Sushi in Osaka

We’re Square Pegs in the Round Demographic of World Travelers

We don’t fit into the nomadic wanderer demographic of young explorers off to see the world. It’s taken us a whole lifetime of careers, marriage and kids to finally decide to shed all of our ‘stuff’ and set out to travel the world without a finite end.

Osaka_20140501_213051We didn’t even realize how atypical we were, not fitting into the mold. Folks “our own age” often admit they wouldn’t think of doing what we are doing. For most of them, traveling is centered around vacation time where they can catch the tourist attractions that a certain destination has to offer. They look forward to returning and enjoying the comforts of their homes after a holiday. I admit that when I was younger, I could hardly imagine moving to a foreign land as many of my University friends did.

Most of our friends are younger, and many of them have told us how they would love to be able to do what we are doing. Some have been inspired by our travels and have begun their own journeys. And many more are working towards being able to do so.

Osaka2014_0595Two or three weeks is often considered a long enough time to visit a place. We travel slowly, which is to say, we remain planted in a place for a few months at a time in order to better experience a destination. We try to integrate into the community, and experience their lifestyle. We rent an apartment, get a couple of used bicycles, join the gym and mix with the locals.

Staying in a Western hotel or being on a tour conducted in English does not interest us much. We would find it difficult to embrace the foreignness of another culture or tradition if we didn’t immerse in it. We did stay one night in a Best Western in Japan. There was little similarity to one in North America!

marketSanJoseCRWe shop at the local markets and try to duplicate some of the local recipes. This not only cuts down on costs but also makes it feel more like a home (especially when we can enjoy a bottle of micro-brewery sake with our meal!). We won’t be trying our hand at making ramen though, as we won’t ever be able to make that perfect stock. We’re still thinking how we would cook the enormous live octopus sold in the open markets.

Catching tourist attractions is not usually in our plan. We enjoy trying to integrate with the locals even if it becomes very entertaining for them, and subsequently for us. We like to get to know what makes them tick, and suppose that they’re wondering the same about us.

We don’t take the world or our place in it too seriously. We continuously explore who we are, and examine the world around us. We love to meet those who have enthusiasm for anything. Hearing about their stories and about their passions is always very interesting to us.

Even though neither of us has really walked the beaten path, this deep experiencing of other cultures and traditions changes us. I don’t feel that we are the same as we were a year ago. I figure that each new place changes us again and again.

We don’t look for the out-of-the-ordinary, but we often discover it in our travels. We meet many people who deeply touch us wherever we go. They begin as strangers and become those with whom we never want to lose  touch.  We’re often amazed and thrilled by people everywhere. Encounters like these, however brief, have a great impact on us. It’s one of the reasons we love to travel.