Tuesday, August 15, 2017

GUAM - Where To?


Guam , the recent hot news item, is a small, exotic island in the North Pacific Ocean, home to some 160 thousand citizens. Its indigenous people are called 'chamorro', and tourism is an important factor in its economy.

The island is mostly known as an american military base. This fact makes  it easy for North Korea to threaten Guam with missiles, as it knows that China and Japan (the other big players in the area), despite the mistrust and rivalry between the two, are not happy with the american military presence there.  

A lot in this crisis and in the crises to come, will depend  on the USA's ability to practice restraint. Its former presidents have done nothing serious to prevent Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear power. So,  the USA has to face now a very complex and volatile reality.

The option to use military force against North Korea is neither a good one, nor a desirable one.
It's a different world now, one which finds it hard to accept american military presence away from its own shores, and won't agree to USA use of nuclear weapons .

In the meantime, let's hope  restraint on both sides will prevail, and  Guam, this little Pacific pearl, is not going to be sacrificed .

*web map

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Hidden Rotunda Gem

Hidden gem - that's what they call the little reddish brick circular church St. George (Sveti Georgi) in Sofia. Hidden, because it's practically tucked away in the  backyard of the Presidency building and what used to be Sheraton Hotel (now Sofia Balkan Hotel). Although central, it's  a bit difficult to find, as it is not seen from the street. I went through an arch passage in the presidential building and then had to descend several stairs to get to it.

the church as seen from the arch passage way

The church , considered the oldest building in Sofia, is charming, both outside and inside. I visited it twice as I have a weak spot for round structures ,and this one is particularly attractive and interesting. Photography of the interior is forbidden; there's a tiny souvenir shop inside selling photos of the beautiful icons and frescoes seen on the church's walls /dome, and some religious artifacts.

entrance to the church

This little church definitely has it all: architecture( low and simple, in  contrast to the communist style tall buildings surrounding it),religion (orthodox,still in use as a place of worship), history(dates back to the 4th century), archeology (it stands amid ruins of the ancient Roman town Serdica).

Roman ruins in the church's garden

It is now bordered  on one side by a cafe-restaurant named Rotunda and on the other side, across the entrance, by a souvenir/art gallery shop - both intended for the many tourists and locals that visit the place.

the Rotunda restaurant

                              souvenir shop across the church's entrance

When inside or outside it, one feels a kind of serenity/peacefulness overcoming him/her, and  senses the presence of  Divinity all over the place. A 'must see' in Sofia.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

From Sofia with Love ...

While it may not have the charm of Paris or the energy of Rome - Sofia (Bulgaria's capital city) does have a few attractions worth experiencing.

For a start it has a welcoming statue, the statue of Sveta Sofia (holy wisdom), a monumental copper and brass work overlooking the city. I liked it a lot.

city center - Sofia statue in the background

The capital has a mountain "attached" to it - Vitosha mountain - lovely place for picnics and hiking in summer, ski in winter. The mountain can be seen from various locations in the city, and it's a beautiful sight. It can be reached by car, bus, cable car, chairlift.. I went there by metro+bus+ on foot 250 m to the station called Aleco Hut , which is under the mountain's highest peak ,Cherni Vrah.

on Vitosha mountain; panoramic views of Sofia in the distance

Vitosha is also the name of the main shopping boulevard and pedestrian zone,  the name of a metro line, and that of a district.

The bulgarians seem to respect their past royalty. Several streets in the capital are named after czars (tsar)  and kings (knyaz) : Tsar Simeon, Tsar Asen1, Knyaz Boris1, Knyaz Alexander, Knyagyna Maria Luiza.

They also seem to have respect for public property. Although everyone uses an i-phone, the phone half-booths are still in their place. I even checked a few of these pay phones and they  were in order; apparently no vandalism. However, I haven't seen anyone there making a phone call.

phone half booth

Speaking of booths, one of the three tourist information offices in town is in a.. ..glass booth located in the City Garden. Cute. It was closed when I approached it, but I didn;t mind as I had all the info I needed from the main office at the Serdika Metro station.

tourist info office in glass booth

Food is quite cheap, at least compared to where I come from. There's this  chain of discount supermarkets scattered everywhere in the city, called BILLA ,where one can get good food at a fraction of the price. People buy there some wonderful croissantes for their morning and evening coffee; they even buy lunch as there is a grill facility in the store which offers hot grilled meat patties and other such products.

Billa  store (yellow letters) at the central bus station

The main general market, the big open air one,  named the Ladies' Market ( Jensky Pazar) also sells food , besides selling fruit, veggies,clothes and kitchenware.

Ladies'  Marrket

To all the lovers of roses, Bulgaria is well-known for the quality of its rose perfume, rose oil, rose water, and rose - based cosmetics. Bulgaria is one of the top producers and exporters of the above products.

Sofia has a lot of  souvenir shops, 'rose' items being the major souvenir on demand. Prior to departure, I bought a few souvenirs at the Central Market Hall (Halite). This is a covered, compact market in an historical building on Maria Luiza boulevard, across the big Mosque, and not far from the little streets making up the Ladies' Market.


More on the bulgarian capital in my next posts (if my computer will let me, and won't give me any trouble).

Friday, July 7, 2017

Attention: Neighbours !


Qatar, an arab peninsular country in the Middle East, has recently become a Hot item in the news. Its neighbours: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrein,and the United Emirates ( a federation of seven emirates- Abu Dhabi and Dubai being the most known of them) have accused Qatar of supporting and funding terrorism. Qatar denies the allegation. 

The four neighbours have cut off  diplomatic relations with Qatar, closed their borders and issued  demands and ultimatums. Qatar has declared that it won't give in to any ultimatum, and that all demands are rejected as they're a trial to undermine the sovereignity of the nation.

Qatar, (with its capital city Doha) is a land rich in oil and gas, so naturally it is one that attracts great interest, and not only from its neighbours. It has also been chosen to host the 2022 World Cup tournament (Mondial 2022). Now, it seems this Mondial is under great uncertainty .

A stroll in the city  (Web image)

All sorts of factors (Kuweit, USA, Russia, Germany, the UN) are trying to moderate in the above diplomatic crisis so as  to avoid escalation and ensuing instability in the region.
It doesn't seem likely at  this point that there's going to be a joint military action of the four neighbouring countries against Qatar. However, the situation is very unpleasant, not to say explosive.

If indeed terrorism is financed by Qatar, this should immediately be stopped; supporting terrorism in any way is an act of war against humanity.  All the other issues (among them the neighbours' demand to close Al Jazeera TV net ,and  a turkish military base) - are internal affairs to be dealt with by Qatar's government.

In any case, Qatar largely depends on import (including food import). Closed borders, boycotts and this sort of thing, will have a disastrous impact on the country even though Iran and Turkey are behind  with "moral" support and food supply, helping her at the moment defy its neighbours.

Never a dull moment in the Middle East.

* web map

Friday, June 30, 2017

Cool and Soothing 'Green Lung'

The modest fountain in the above picture is not  placed, as most of the traditional ones, in the middle of a town square. This fountain with a circular basin , and straight, perpendicular falling water is located in a corner, a very strategic one - facing two long, busy roads, one of which (Ben-Gurion Rd. ) is dividing two cities (Bney- Brak and Ramat-Gan).

the  perpendicularly falling water

Even on hot days as our summer days are, it's quite cool near the fountain, and the sound of the falling water is very soothing. The whole spot is a little gem with grass, flowers, young trees and benches. It looks well kept - no litter, no mosquitos of any kind. There's no children's playground around, so the spot is usually quiet. It is a place mostly for young couples, teenagers, elderly people, passers by.

a cool, quiet little gem

Whenever I'm in the area I take the time to sit on a bench  and enjoy the serenity of the spot. Behind the fountain there's a coffee shop, one of the many coffee shops belonging to the fine chain called 'Aroma'. It's a pleasure to sit at a table outside the cafe with a cup of coffee and a sandwich and contemplate the fountain and its visitors. 

Aroma cafe with its red sign and people sitting outside

chairs and flowers outside the Aroma coffee shop

tiny birds found some food on a bench vis- a -vis the fountain

This spot is a blessed genuine 'green lung' in an urban area. It creates a much needed balance between Man and Nature, development and environment. We definitely need more of the kind.

*   *    *

Across the street there's an interesting high  statue exhibit named "the sky is the limit,"  composed of human figures in motion . Like the fountain, this outdoor colorful work of art  gives people not only visual pleasure, but also much food to thought.

'the sky is the limit' statue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tower of Peace

Frankly, I wouldn't like to live in a tower or near the woods - because of safety reasons, fire hazards in particular (See the latest disasters: Grenfell tower -London, and the forest fires in Portugal ).

I 've worked ,however,in a tower for many years, an office tower in Tel Aviv, called Shalom Tower ('shalom' meaning 'peace' in hebrew). 
I wasn't crazy about the place despite the view of the Mediterranean through my window .  I disliked the dependence on elevators and the impatient crowds waiting for them. I did like, though, its central position and proximity to the sea, city market, cultural and  shopping areas.

Panoramic view ,including the sea, from the 19th floor (not digital photo)

Shalom  Tower ,named after Shalom Meir, father of the tower's two developers, 
has 34 floors, the lobby and the first floor serving as free art galleries (mosaics, paintings, sculptures), and photo exhibitions (of people, maps, projects..) with emphasis on the city's history and urban development.

mosaic wall

mosaic wall

photo exhibits

photo exhibits

When its construction was completed, in 1965, it was the tallest tower in  the Middle East. Since then, many towers, both residential and office towers have been  erected in  the major cities of the country, some of them of  great architectural beauty.

Shalom Tower seen from adjacent Herzel street

Whether we like it or not, these towers are taking over. There's shortage of land, of housing, of parking lots, of green spots - so we're told - and the towers are supposed to solve these issues.

Let's hope that towers and skyscrapers regardless of place will bring real 'Shalom' ('Peace')  to the people that live/work in them.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

When general Allenby's street meets baron Rotschild's street

I had some errands to run in the big city. Near the intersection of the two major streets Allenby and Rothschild, I noticed... (how could I not? the cool music that emerged from that direction was loud and inviting) an indoors food market that was not there several months ago. I entered the place (located in a passage of a building) to have a closer look at it.

It is not big but it has  a great variety of food displayed in a few small shops (fruit and vegetables, fish, liquor store), and on many stands (coffee, bakery products, fish and chips, freshly squeezed juices, pasta, sandwiches, japanese dishes, etc..).There's something for everyone, as they say.. At the entrance/exit - a stationary trike with young vendors selling ice-cream.

Nothing special about the food concept.. The design of the place, however, is eye-catching:  six-seven columns with scenes from daily life created in colorful mosaics; the entrance wall, the roof and some columns are covered with lovely decorative tiles. Interesting light fixtures too, and a variety of chairs and tables to acommodate the needs of the customers. No doubt, food goes well with good design and architecture.

Allenby street (named in honor of the british field mareshal Edmund Allenby) is a very busy commercial street with all kinds of shops and eateries.
Rothschild Boulevard (named in honor of baron Edmund James Rothschild of the european banking dynasty) is a more elegant and iconic street. It has superb architecture and  houses cultural institutions, art galleries, gourmet restaurants, bank headquarters. 

Allenby-Rothschild intersection

Both 'Edmunds' - the army figure and the financial magnate- would have been  pleased.  People-  locals and tourists - love these two lively streets in the heart of the city of Tel-Aviv. And now this food market thing...

The Rothschild-Allenby food market seems to be a fusion of  two worlds represented by the two different streets which sit in the same area. It fits the simplicity of those who live/shop/walk on Allenby street, and the sophistication of those who live/work/ enjoy culture on Rothschild boulevard. 

That's how it goes today - flexible boundaries; fast food near chef food, soldiers sitting at the bar next to bankers, locals mingling with tourists, young and old - all looking for a tasty bite at a decent price.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Manchester - Jerusalem

The Media told us  there were dead, wounded, and...missing among the victims of the bomb explosion in Manchester last week.
Under explosion circumstances, the 'missing'  are usually dead humans in an unidentifiable condition. 

I happen to know a religious young man who's a volunteer at ZAKA Rescue Unit; his task and that of his colleagues on the team, isׂ (among other things) to collect body remains scattered in the area of the disaster, and help with the identification job of the forensic technician.  It sounds horrible; it is horrible, but someone has to do it. 

ZAKA team in action (web picture)

ZAKA, a civilian volunteer organization founded in Jerusalem in 1995 (activity started several years earlier),  has as its motto: "saving those who can be saved, honoring those who cannot".  ZAKA also operates internationally offering assistance in mass disasters around the world (eartquakes, zunamis, terrorism etc..). They were probably present on the Manchester scene too. Kudos to them for their holy work!

We all know that "prevention is the best cure". This applies not only to health issues , but to other issues as well.
The Manchester suicide bomber, so we're told ,was on the list of 'subjects of interest'. So, what exactly did those with the "list" do about it?  Nothing, it seems; absolutely nothing!  Now, they're investigating.... Good Luck with that, but there is no time; terrorism  has a dynamics of its own.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Khat - from Yemen to Israel

fresh khat leaves*

The 'khat' plant (khat is pronounced 'gat' in hebrew) is a stimulant and appetite suppressor. The plant is native to Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and it was brought to Israel by jews of yemenite descent. It was, and still is  in some neighborhoods inhabited primarily by yemenite jews, part of their tradition to sit together for several hours (men and women apart), chewing the oval shaped leaves of this plant, and socializing.

bunch of khat leaves*

During the recent years , the juice extracted from the plant has become a Hit. Chewing khat in leaf form is legal in Israel, but as for the juice, its status is not very clear, and that has allowed people to use this fact to make a profit by selling it at kiosks, certain eateries and  restaurants.

khat juice*

Neither the leaves nor the juice are cheap; in fact it's an expensive habit, but people will pay any price for the promises that khat  chewing or khat juice carry: weightloss, virility, increased energy etc..(it reminds us of another mild narcotic - marijuana). Its main dangerous feature for the consummer, besides possible addiction, is raise in blood pressure with all that is associated with it (stroke, heart attack).

field of khat shrubs*

Anyway, the 'khat'  growers and traders in Israel are reporting an increase in demand for the leaves; among the new users - quite a lot of women (weightloss ?!!).  

The other day, I saw an article from TIME  on the internet with the following  headline  :" Is Yemen chewing itself to death?" Interesting article, dealing with the negative influence of chewing 'khat' on the society and economy of Yemen. The situation there is extreme, but even in Israel  and the UK this khat chewing is certainly not a blessing.

*web pictures