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Jerusalem’s Cardo Maximus November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Travel.
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Next, our tour guide took us to the Jewish quarter to see ruins of the Cardo Maximus (or main north-south street) through Jerusalem in Byzantine times – the times of the crusades. This was a pretty cool thing to see, especially a mosaic map (called the “Madaba” map) that had been found in a nearby church that depicted what the city would have looked like many hundreds of years ago. Here’s a picture…


This main north-south thoroughfare directly connected the Damascus gate to the north and Zion gate to the south. The crusaders had turned most of this are into roofed markets. Like the other Cardo maximus streets we saw on our trip, there were stone columns down the center with shops lining either side. The cool thing about this particular incarnation of that architecture was that today the northern half of the strip was still there – a thriving marketplace where we shopped for 30 minutes or so between stops in the city. A picture of the modern shopping area…

Shopping on the Carto Maximus

One other thing I found particularly of note was the way the street was constructed. We were walking on the same stones that were there during the crusades 800-900 years ago. In the middle of the street was a little trough. This is where the sewage ran down the street before the concept of sewer systems. I can’t imagine how badly it must have reeked there. Seeing stuff like that made the black death a bit more understandable / imaginable. Here’s a picture…

Byzantine "Sewer"

The Muslim Quarter and Jerusalem Markets November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in News, Politics and Culture, Travel.
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Our tour today briefly took us through the Muslim quarter in the old city, as we walked from the Temple Mount esplanade (near the eastern gate), past the pool of Bethesda, to Antonia’s fortress, and briefly down part of the Via Dolorosa.

I wanted to share a couple marked differences between the Muslim quarter and the Jewish and Christian quarters. I know some of this isn’t politically incorrect to say, but the facts are…

  1. The Muslim quarter was dirty. Garbage laid everywhere. Totally different from the other places I saw in the city. It was clear that there was far less value placed on cleaning up after oneself than in other cultures. Sorry, just tellin’ you what I saw.
  2. It was really crowded, though this doesn’t set it apart from other areas. Like in many of the Jewish streets we walked down, I was constantly bombarded by some guy wanting to sell me something “for two dolla”. We mocked later (probably wrongfully), saying “I’ll give you 2 goats for … something” … a set of pictures on Facebook, maybe. “I make you special deal, my friend.” I don’t know how many times I heard that I was getting a special deal just for me – as was the guy behind me, of course.
  3. I felt relatively safe. Truthfully, in a group in broad daylight, I didn’t feel any more or less safe in one part of Jerusalem than any other. Our guide definitely cautioned us to stay in a group, especially in the Muslim quarter at night, and I definitely would have discouraged even a small group of white girls wandering around in the city at night. But I didn’t somehow feel less safe in the Muslim quarter than in any of the others.

It would be impossible for me to fully communicate the sensation of shopping on the streets of Jerusalem. It was definitely different than America. It was all about haggling, playing a game with the shop proprieters, etc. I turned out to be fairly good at it, actually. The secret is to know what you’re looking for, have a general sense of what it’s actually worth, and know how much you’re willing to pay for it. Then you have to not really care if you get it or not, and keep walking away until the guy begs you to take it for the price you had in mind in the first place. I found counter offers to be less valuable than just continuing to say “no” and start walking away. One guy even put his arm around me, and somewhat forcibly tried to keep me from leaving. I had to peel out of his grip, and keep walking away. Eventually I got the item I was looking at there for $35, when he started out at “$230, but a special price today of $150″. So, that’s like 76% off even the sale price. Rock on! Another guy said to me once, “I’m a nice guy … you take deal,” to which I replied, “I’m not a nice guy, it’s $40 or I walk.” I got the stuff (originally offered at $110) for $42.

By the way, check out the picture above. This is my roommate, Jace, in a shop in the Muslim quarter. Note the guy in the background. He’s got the whole “get your arm around the tourist and don’t let go until he gives you American dollars” maneuver going on. Been there, done that!

Anyway, at the beginning of the trip, I disliked all the game playing. By the end, I was kinda into it actually.

Philippine Travel Log: Our Last Day in Manila October 9, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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October 9th was dominated by one theme: preparing to return home.  We ate our classic breakfast buffet at the hotel, then headed over to the mall for sovenier shopping.  After being exposed to such great stores at the “new” mall (the one we hadn’t been to) the night before, we decided that it would likely be one-stop shopping for us.  So, off we went to Kultura to get started.

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

We shopped there for like two hours – easily long enough for John to be totally bored out of his mind.  I’m terribly indecisive when it comes to this kind of thing.  Also, when I’m really hungry and have to choose something to eat from a large menu.  I’m fairly incapacitated by (what I unfortunately have to admit is) the fear of choosing “the wrong thing”.  Shopping at Kultura was no different … Are we spending too much?  Will so-and-so like such-and-such?  If we get this person this, will that person feel slighted that we got that?  Plus, we had already purchased a few things along the way through the trip – such as during our day trip to the Ilocos Norte museum and Fort Ilocandia while up north near Laoag City.  So, the decision-making process was further complicated by trying to remember what we had previous purchased, who it was for, how many we got, why we got it, etc.  Ugh!  Made me (and still makes me) want to just tell all my friends and family that we love them but we’re not competent enough to shop for them while traveling.  Then again, I guess I just did.  :-/

So after spending a grand total of P6200 (about $100 – which I only mention because it’s amazing how much we bought for that little cash)  on everything from serving platters to figurines to picture frames to smaller gifts for the children of neighbors, friends, and family, we were finally ready to move on.  I think John was on his third anurism by this point, and mom and I were beginning to lose patience with him as well.  Hours of shopping with mom and dad is not the way to a 4 year old’s heart, I have to say.

For the record – and for John’s memory when he reads this 10 years from now (the real reason I’m recording all of this), we bought some really cool stuff.  We got picture frames for parents and siblings, which we knew we’d fill with fun pictures of our trip.  We got a carved wooden statue of a Philippine eagle, the 2nd largest in the world (the eagle, not the statue) for my dad.  We got coin purses and other little trinkets for lots of kids in our lives.  We got some simple serving platters and bowls for friends.  And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure, that I just can’t remember at the moment.  We also purchased a really awesome rice serving dish and spoon – wooden bowl and spoon with a glass lid – for us, and a picture and woven scroll to hang on the wall.  We were adament in going over there that we would purchase art and/or a few random other artifacts so that when John becomes more aware that he is in a foreign place, that he has a taste of home to remember it by.

Okay, enough Kultura.  After that, mom distracted John with the all-powerful, all-enticing siren’s call of the escalator.  She kept him busy for quite a while – made longer by a resurgance of my fear of choosing wrongly – as I shopped for transformers at the mega toy store in the mall.  Our thought was that if we gave John a transformer when he got on the plane that he would be SO distracted by the wonders of modern toyhood that he wouldn’t even notice the 24+ hour trip home.  Yeah, like that worked, but I’m getting ahead.

Once reunited, we headed for the massive food court to have lunch.  I think Faith sneaked a quick pummelo run in on the way there, but it’s all a blur.  She was quite the fan (so was John), so it wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s too much like grapefruit for me to get my fries to covered in chili.  But I digress…..

So, at the food court…  I was more than a little frustrated with Faith, because she seemed to be pretty scatter-brained.  First, we didn’t know where we were eating.  Then she couldn’t get a table.  Then there were bathroom runs to make.  And all the while I’m loaded down with GIANT bags of souvenirs.  I don’t remember any more detail than that, just that I was frustrated.  I’m sure it had as much if not more to do with a long morning of shopping and John’s starting to get roudy than it did with anything Faith was doing.

We got John and Faith Jollibee, and I tried something else I don’t remember, but remember thinking that it wasn’t anything to write home about.  Of course, John and Faith were both prepared to write home about the Jollibee spaghetti and fried chicken combo!  Faith absolutely loved their fried chicken, and John is pretty much all about fried chicken and/or spaghetti wherever he can find it.  And if I had a peso for every time Faith commented on how much she liked the rice with her meals, even fast food, I’d have a whole dollar (which is saying something).  Not that I’m complaining; I happen to agree.  But anyway…  Once we were sitting down and chilling out, all our moods greatly improved, which was my favorite part.

Lunch at Jollibee

Lunch at Jollibee

After lunch, it was back to the hotel.  Dad set about the daunting task (but I love this stuff) of getting us all packed up and ready to head back to the States.  And it was better for everyone involved – more fun for everyone – that Faith and John went swimming.  It was sunny and warm and the last opportunity for many months they would have to bask in the sunshine, heat and water.  Plus, we had to rearrange toys and other supplies that John had yet to be exposed to, as we had been saving them for the long ride home (we were so prepared!).  AND, everyone knew that the mess that would be created in that little hotel room to get us packed up wouldn’t be made better by tripling the number of people in the room.

So, I packed.  They swam.  And a good time was had by all.

Upon completing the packing, I joined them by the pool, but didn’t get in.  I wasn’t there long before the sun (and my personal tendencies independent of the weather) drove me back inside to the business center to play with Facebook, my blog, and other glorious technology.

Eventually, after they had had their fill of sun and pool, and I’d finished a blog entry or two, we headed back over to the mall.  Faith wanted to check out Philippine cookbooks and other books on the Philippines (for both John’s and our educations).  We hung out in the bookstore for a little while, John on my shoulders most of the time drawing “aww, how cute!” looks for passers-by.  Faith picked up a couple books, and I definitively declared that all this shopping for cookbooks was making me hungry.  We ate at TGI Friday’s in the other mall, which was really fun family time, and then headed back to the hotel.

We got ready for bed, there was snuggling, and there was a little more play time, and there was evening and there was morning, the last day.

Philippine Travel Log: Mother Maximus vs. the Jetlag September 28, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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We designed Sunday, 9/28 in our schedule to be a day of rest. Ambitious as we are, we figured we’d need a whole day to get over the jetlag. As it turned out, I slept a grand total of 24.5 hours between leaving the house on Friday and 10PM the following Wednesday (10/1 – 5 days – average: 4.9 hrs a night). And in fact, a full 25% of that was thanks to this Sunday, but I’ll get to that. BTW, Faith’s stats: 31.5 hrs, 5 days, 6.3 hrs a night average. I know I sound cooler, more pitiable, whatever, but she’s used to getting way more sleep than me, so….

Anyway, Sunday was to be a day of rest, with big adventures beginning Monday, and meeting John-John on Wednesday. We got up, found out the full extent of the laptop detestation, and headed to breakfast. The room reserved for us by the adoption agency at the hotel (the InterContinental Manila) includes the buffet breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel, called the Jeepney Deli. Sounds like a pretty simple place, but we walked in there and were absolutely amazed at the HUGE beautiful buffet. You knew the kind … way more food than would even allow you to try everything, let alone eat a reasonably-sized portion of anything. We immediately bonded with one of the chefs, and started trying various Philippino foods. Thus began Jeff’s descent into pork hell this week. Clearly, pork and rice are the staples of the Philippine diet. I’m all over the rice (which we’ll likely now be serving with almost every meal), but if I never see another pig again it’ll be too soon.

So, we thoroughly enjoyed the buffet, and walked out fat and happy. Next, we decided to visit a bazaar that takes place at the hotel every Sunday. It was described as a must-see, but we totally underestimated it. The longer we walked around, the huger we realized it was. We bought Faith a shirt, and a couple little things for John, as well as some treats to take to the orphanage for the kids. We also met a nun named (I kid you not) Mother Maximus. She cornered us in one room, and described in detail the schools her convent ran and what they did for children all over the island. It was really cool, and we were eager to help them. So, we asked them to set aside a little statue which we thought would be a good souvenier / gift, and agreed amongst ourselves (Faith and I) to buy some food they had there. But we wanted to come back later, after having checked out the rest of the bazaar, so that we wouldn’t have to lug around what we bought.

After another solid hour of wandering, we decided we were hungry. So, we left the bazaar for lunch with the intention of grabbing some lunch, checking out the mall, then returning to the bazaar to buy the stuff we’d agreed we liked. We left the hotel and crossed the street to the huge mall there (called Glorietta). Actually, there are three malls – SM, Glorietta, and another I can’t remember at the moment. We went only to Glorietta at first.

The mall was huge, with four massive sections. Many of the shops were the same as ones you’d find in America. What was different is that we walked into the end of a pretty huge Catholic church service happening in one of the big corridors in the mall. That was pretty cool. Also found a place called BreadTalk, which is a small local chain of bakeries. Very tasty stuff there. Faith particularly liked (and we’ve gotten several of these) a jelly donut like thing with strawberry and creme fillings. YUM! Cursed lack of metabolism!

We also found a store called “LandMark”, which had a shoe section bigger than most entire stores. And the handbags! Don’t get me started! I mean, how can a woman need so many shoes and purses!? Becca would have drooled herself into a coma. Later we found massively inexpensive shoes for John-John there too. But I priced some electronics while at the mall, and they were as expensive if not more than in the US. Most everything else is much cheaper here, but not the tech. Just FYI.

We ate lunch at McDonald’s of all places (typically called “McDo” in the Philippines). Faith had fried chicken, which is served with rice and some sort of fat sauce … er … I mean gravy. I had their spaghetti, because I’m told it’s a favorite of Philippine children (and that John specifically really likes it). Plus, if you can’t get it in the States, then I have to try it, right?! Both were good, but the spaghetti was totally different than in the US. The sauce is very sweet and is clearly BBQ sauce-based, not marinara as we know it. Plus, it had chunks of hot dog in it. No wonder the kids love it!

By the time we’d McDo’d and BreadTalk’d, we were stuffed, and the heat, humidity and jet lag got the best of us. We got back to the hotel, and decided to lay down for a few minutes, then go back to the bazaar. Six hours later, we woke up. It was about 7PM, and the bazaar was long closed. We’d totally ditched Mother Maximus! NO!!! We felt SO bad, not to mention that (even for a non-superstitious person like myself) there’s something even more uncool about ditching a nun than anyone else. I had bad dreams about the Blues Brothers that night. Ugh.

So, after realizing that we were horrible people, we decided to wander around the pool and get to know the place a bit. We met a really nice guy named Ryan who works at the pool-side bar and restaurant. Great guy. We’ve gotten to know him pretty well while we’ve been here.

Ate a light dinner at the Jeepney. Had fresh lumpia, which was awesome. Had a peanut sauce on it, and wasn’t fried (which was a big deal to me). Also split a tofu-veggie-yellow-curry dish of some kind. Not like the Thai I know and love, but still good. I thought of Chris Miller with every bite of delicious tofu. lol

After that, it was late night packing and such, as we prepared to check out early the next day to visit Chosen Children (more on them later). It was going to be a pretty hectic Monday to follow our relaxing day of rest (I should say so – we were unconscious for most of it). But as it turned out, plans changed. But that’s the next entry.


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