Scenes from Jerusalem

Jerusalem has a vibe and an atmosphere than cannot be put into words… So, I’m not going to try.  Here are some very random and very spontaneous snaps from my walks around this incredible city.

Scenes from around the Damascus Gate in the Old City:

The souvenir and gift shop that is the Via Dolorosa:


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City:

Scenes from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City:

Leaving the Old City …


Jaffa Road and the Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre:

Being Latvian, we always get a bit excited when Latvia pops up somewhere, or gets a mention… Umm, maybe not this time…

The Mount of Olives:

…And the view from the top:


Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs

Today, I went to visit Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and several generations of his family are thought to have lived and are now buried.  Hebron is a divided city, under both Palestinian and Israeli control.  It’s divided into areas H1 and H2.  Area H1 is entirely Palestinian, contains 80 % of the population and is under Palestinian control.  Area H2 is contains the Jews and the remainder of the Arabs and is under full Israeli control.  The border between the two sectors runs right down the middle of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It’s a weird situation and unique in the West Bank in that the Jewish settlers have settled right smack dab in the centre of the old town, quite literally on top of the Palestinians.  In other parts of the West Bank, they build settlements next to and around the Palestinian towns but not actually in them.  The people moving to other settlements in the West Bank are motivated mainly by economics.  It’s cheap.  You can get a big comfortable house for a fraction of the cost of Jerusalem and it’s an easy commute.  The Jewish settlers in Hebron on the other hand, are a different breed. They are hardcore Zionists.  As a result there is a lot of tension between them and the Palestinians. The settlers are under protection of the Israeli Defence Forces with apparently four soldiers to every settler.

To get to Hebron, you have the choice of taking an Arab bus or an Israeli bus.  I opted for the Israeli bus simply because it’s easier.  There’s free Wi-Fi at the bus station, the bus is direct, you don’t need to deal with checkpoints; you get waved through… And… the bus is bullet proof!  When I got to the bus station though, the bullet proof bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so I thought I could save time by taking a different bus which stopped at Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement just on the edge of Hebron and then taking another bus from there.  I don’t know what I was thinking… It was like getting off the train at somewhere like Woy Woy and expecting it to be a major transport hub.  Imagine the smallest, quietest ‘burb you can think of, divide it by ten and populate it with grumpy Jewish people… Well, then you’ve got Kiryat Arba! The only busses passing through there were the same bullet proof ones coming from Jerusalem, so I still had to wait the hour.

While I was waiting I approached a man on the street to enquire exactly where I should wait for the bullet proof bus. It turns out he is a Jew from the north-east of India, somewhere close to the border of Bangladesh.  I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing: North-east Indian Jews.  You learn something new every day! … Anyway, I think he took pity on me and offered to drive me to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  We get in his car and drive off.  We start he chatting… He tells me he is from north-east India and I tell him I’m from Australia.  He starts laughing and says, “My gun is from Australia” and points to the gun on the dash.  “That’s nice” I replied, smiling on the outside but quietly freaking out on the inside.  “Ha ha, no, not really” he says… “I work in security for the Parliament” … “Oh, you jokester, you!”  And then, we arrived at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  I thanked him, shook his hand and off I went to explore Hebron.

Arrival at the tomb on the Jewish side…

It was Muslim prayer time when I arrived, so the tomb was closed to tourists for about thirty minutes.  While I was waiting, I went through the checkpoint to explore the old city of Hebron.  For me, as an obvious non-Jew and non-Muslim, it wasn’t an issue passing in either direction through the checkpoint.  You could see the Palestinian guys get a really hard time when they pass back.  The Palestinian guy in front of me had to take off his shirt, shoes, belt, roll up his pants and even then they made him walk through the metal detector multiple times.  When I walked through and the alarm sounded, they just asked me, “Do you have a knife or a gun?” Of course I replied “No”  They took my word for it, waved me through and wished me a nice time in Hebron.

The old city of Hebron is very attractive and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


As you walk through the old city and you look up, you notice that the alley ways are caged in with wire and bars covered in rubbish.  Above the bars and wires live the settlers who through the rubbish and stones onto the Palestinians below.

Beyond the old town is the modern town.  It’s quite a bustling city.  It seems that the dodgier the city, the cheaper the felafel.  In Tel Aviv it’s 20 shekels, Jerusalem it’s 15, Bethlehem 5 and in Hebron it’s only 3!

Then it was time to enter the tomb from the Muslim side…

They wanted me to go in drag, as a sign of respect.  Standing in front of Rebecca’s tomb…


Inside …

Time to go home, so it’s back on the bullet-proof bus bound for Jerusalem.

“I’m bullet proof, nothing to loose… Fire away, Fire away.  Ricochet, you take your aim… Fire away, fire away.  You shoot me down, but I won’t fall… I am titanium.”

Bethlehem, Palestine.

I went to Bethlehem today.  It’s only about nine kilometres away from Jerusalem so I opted for the bus.  It’s very simple.  You take the number 231 bus from the Arab bus station opposite the Damascus Gate and it gets you to downtown Bethlehem in about forty minutes.  Bethlehem is administered by the Palestinian Authority so it requires going through an Israeli military checkpoint.  They don’t stop the bus on the way in… I guess they don’t care who or what goes IN.   They do stop it on the way back to Jerusalem, however.  All the Palestinians have to get off the bus and are checked The tourists are allowed to stay on the bus while two young Israeli guys with machine guns come on and check passports.

My initial plan was only to visit Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity but once I got there, I walked around downtown, chatted to some locals, checked out the old city, looked at the dividing wall between Israel and the West Bank and ended up in Camp Aida, a Palestinian refugee Camp since 1948.  The locals were very nice and seemed keen to chat and share their plight.  One man was keen to point out the difference between Palestinian and Israeli taxi drivers… Although both Israeli and Palestinian taxi drivers will rip you off, at least the Palestinian ones aren’t rude like the Israelis!

I’ll let the pictures tell the story.  The only time I felt a little uneasy was when Osama, my driver, pointed out the Israeli Guard Tower overlooking the camp and the walls of the school opposite the tower with bullet holes in the walls.  Although to be honest, I don’t know which made me feel worse; that or Osama’s halitosis.

Getting the bus from the Damascus Gate:

When I arrived, I bought a felafel from this guy.  He was quick to point out that Bethlehem is better than Tel Aviv because felafel only costs five shekels as opposed to Tel Aviv’s 20 shekels.

felafel man 2.JPG

Some faces of Bethlehem:

Some street scenes:

A quick look at Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.  Most of the inside of the church was undergoing repairs or renovations so it was boarded up or covered with scaffolding.  The parts not undergoing renovation were covered with Russian tourists.

Then I came across Osama, the taxi driver…


… And asked him to take me to see some of the wall that separates the West Bank from the rest of Israel.  There’s a lot of graffiti on the wall.

After that, we went to Camp Aida, one of the Palestinian refugee camps.  It’s been a refugee camp since 1948.  Now the tents have been replaced by more permanent structures, although the conditions in which the live is very poor; many families sharing one apartment and sporadic water and electricity supply.

A reminder of all the men women and children who have been killed…

Bullet holes in the wall…

Some scenes from the streets of Camp Aida…

There’s no getting away from the wall…

Osama took me to the roof of the building where he lives, so that I could see over the wall…

camp 9.JPG

From the roof, I could see over the wall to the Israeli settlements… and noted the stark contrast between those and the refugee camp.

It’s incredibly saddening to think that people live like this everyday.  They live in an outdoor prison with no luck, no hope and no future.

.. And that was my day!

Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem

I rented a room through Airbnb at Number 11 Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem.  This video gives you a little tour of the house.  For the last 20 years of his life, this was the home of Ben Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language.

Here are some photos of the house from the outside:

And a few shots of the Ethiopian Church at Number 10, Ethiopia Street:


Meanwhile, I made the trip to Akko despite my Tel Aviv host’s discouragement  “It’s a dirty Arab town and not really worth the time and effort to get there” he claimed. It indeed did take a while to get there and I can understand… When people tell me they are going to go by train to the Blue Mountains, I’m like, “Whatever the hell for?” But as a tourist, it’s not like you have to rush off to work or anything.. So, I threw caution to the wind, threw on a pair of shorts and off I went.

Akko is in the north of Israel on Haifa Bay, about another thirty minutes on the train past Haifa.  Along with other cities, it claims to be one of the oldest continually inhibited cities in the world; about 4000 years apparently and is the holiest city for the Bahai faith.  It was initially meant to be part of an Arab state during the UN partition plan for Palestine, but it was captured during the war and annexed along with other parts of Palestine.  It then became a development town for thousands of Jewish immigrants mainly from Morocco and then later Russians and Ukrainians from the USSR.  However, the old city of Akko still remains very Arab Muslim and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From a distance, the walled old city of Akko is quite attractive.  It sits on a peninsula surrounded by water that comes up right to the city wall.  In the centre of the old city is the very attractive Al Jazzar Mosque… and no problem entering in shorts either!  The rest of the town is a labyrinth of covered walkways, part market and part residential.  There are a lot of sweets and spices at the market and also an open fresh fish market.  I’ll pause for a minute, so you can fully imagine the aroma of fish wafting around the labyrinth in 40 degree heat…


To be honest, Akko was a bit shabby and it was mainly a case of take some snaps, tick it off your list and leave.  One good thing about going to places like Akko is that it makes Tel Aviv look a whole lot better when you return.  It makes it easier to appreciate what it has to offer and overlook the ill-mannered and entitled Tel Avivians and the horrible service you get in shops and restaurants.  At the better end of the spectrum, the service in Tel Aviv can be quite stern.  At the other end of the spectrum, it’s just downright rude.  I was tip shamed the other day at a club.  The barman shouted at me, “It’s usual to tip in Israel!” as I went to pick up my change from the tray.  I’ve worked in the hospitality industry so I totally get tipping and I generally DO tip … But at bar, when you’ve just paid an extortionate 65 shekels (that’s 24 Australian dollars!!) for an extremely ordinary drink and the barman doesn’t speak to you… He just scowls at you and flicks his face upwards as if to say, “What the f*** do you want?” … Can you explain to me WHY I should tip you?

And now from one extreme to the other:  From a dirty Arab town to staying in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem… More to follow!

Haifa and Nazareth

As I mentioned in the previous post, I haven’t really been diggin’ the Tel Aviv scene as much as I thought I would, so I decided to make a quick two day trip to the north. I had originally planned to see Haifa, Nazareth and Akko but in the end had to scale it down.  On paper, it all seemed quick and easy… Certainly travelling in Israel is easy, but by the time you factor in walking to the station or bus stop, getting lost on the way, waiting for and getting the train or bus, traffic jams and so on, it all takes a lot longer than you think.  Getting lost here at least isn’t a big deal.  Most people you stop on the street are genuinely helpful.  Usually when you stop someone on the street to ask for directions, no-one knows a thing.  Here, however, people know where things are and are able to direct you with military precision.

Israeli trains are good.  The train to Haifa is very comfortable and takes one hour.  I had initially planned to drop my bag off quickly and continue on to Akko, but that didn’t happen.  I arrived later than I though and the extreme heat makes everything that much more challenging.  So, I decided just to take a look at the Bahai gardens.  The Bahai gardens are stunning, one of the most beautiful and well maintained gardens that I’ve ever seen.  One thing to note is that all of Haifa, including the Bahai gardens, is built on the side of a mountain.  Yes, that’s right… The side of mountain … Mount Carmel to be precise.  What this means is, that the only two ways you will ever go in Haifa is extremely steeply uphill or extremely steeply downhill.  Downhill is not a problem except that it generally involves an uphill return journey at some point.  Walking up to the temple was a test of endurance.  Imagine doing Step Aerobics in your jeans in searing heat and humidity.  Or for the bikram enthusiasts who may be reading this, imagine doing a triangle pose that never ends.  So after traipsing up and down the mountain for a while, I was ready to relax.

Haifa is known as the city of coexistence and unlike Tel Aviv, there is a very strong Arab presence there. For the two nights, I rented a room from Hanna, a Palestinian Christian.  The Christian part is only significant because he told me to help myself to anything in the fridge once I arrived ( he wasn’t home at that time) … There was no food, but there was a bottle of gin, so I was able to help myself to that.  It was interesting staying with Hanna to be able to get a different perspective of what life is like in the “promised land” for Arabs.  He was reluctant to talk politics but I pressed the issue… And didn’t I just open up a can of worms!  You can pretty much imagine what he said… “I hate this fucking country!!” he shouted… Arabs are second class citizens in their own country who are continually discriminated against only because they are Arab.  What’s more they are banned from travelling in much of the Arab world because they hold Israeli passports.  Double whammy.  According to Hanna, Israel has simply recreated the Holocaust.  This time however, the Jews are the Nazis, the Arabs are the Jews and Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto.

Beyond politics, Arabs are very genuinely hospitable people and I was made to feel very welcome. When I went to a restaurant he recommended for dinner, he phoned ahead and made sure I received special treatment.  I was even given a Palestinian desert on the house; kanafeh, which is a kind of sweet cheese and pistachio pastry soaked in sugar syrup.  It was really delicious but the portion they gave me was like the size of an extremely large main course.  Not wanting to offend anyone, I ate the lot!  Then, with that and a couple of araks under my belt, it was a very long and slow stagger back up the hill.

The kanafeh in question:


The next day, I made the bus ride out to Nazareth.  It was very simple.  For anyone who is reading this and might be interested in going, you take bus number 331 from Haifa HaShmona station and  get off at the last stop in downtown Nazareth.  It’s only 30 kms but takes between 60 to 90 minutes to get there.  I had read about Nazareth before I went, so I knew what to expect once I got there.  You imagine this kind of peaceful, rustic village surrounded by rolling fields of green.   The reality is that Nazareth is a large traffic choked Arab town full of kebab shops… Not that there is anything wrong with large Arab towns or kebab shops.  The Basilica of the Anunciation, Mary’s Well and St. Joseph’s church are right smack in the centre of town and beyond that is the old town with its souk.

The Basilica of the Anunciation itself is relatively new but it’s built over the site where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the son of God.  When you go down the steps to the lower level of the basilica, you pass the grotto which is believed to be the remains of the childhood home of Mary.  While I’m neither Catholic nor particularly religious, I could feel that I was in a very special place.  I posted a couple of short videos on my Instagram (martinkoskins).

And now back in the beachy city of Tel Aviv … With regard to not diggin’ the scene here, another point to note is that there  are aggressive, biting fish in the water at the beach here.  If you stand still for even the shortest amount of time, the fish come and bite you on your heels or ankle.  I know I could put it down to having a free spa treatment, but it completely freaks me out and I scream like a howler monkey every time it happens!  The only way to avoid being bitten is keep swimming or treading water.  It’s a great workout but doesn’t exactly make for a peaceful relaxing time!

Tel Aviv – Yafo

Meanwhile, I left the Istanbul penthouse last Thursday and flew to Tel Aviv.  Things went very smoothly again, although flight-wise it was yet another regret.  Just like Asiana Airlines was the cheapest ticket to Istanbul, the 7.55 am flight to Tel Aviv on Pegasus, Turkey’s low-cost carrier, was also the cheapest.  I wish I had spent the extra in order to fly non-Korean and I wish I had spent the extra so I didn’t have to take a taxi out to the airport at 4.30 am.  Oh well, what’s done is… But make a mental not to do it ever again.


The arrival into Tel Aviv went smoothly.  The airport was virtually empty. I got through customs and immigration in a flash, found a cab a shortly arrived at my final destination in Rashi Street in downtown Tel Aviv.  It was a bit spooky at first… Seeing all those Jewish grandmothers, I had a momentary PTSD spin-out moment and felt like I had time-travelled back to 1997 to Pier 5 Hickson Road Walsh Bay, when I worked at the Wharf Restaurant.


This is my third visit to Israel, the other two times being in 1999 and 2000.  I was obviously 18 years younger and I also stayed with locals on those two occasions.  It was also pre-iPhone and pre-social media.  I mourn the loss of pre-iPhone travel when all you had to do was go to the travel agent to get your ticket and the bookstore to get your lonely planet guide.  Then, if you wanted to rent a cheap room in someone’s house, you just approached an old lady sitting in the train or bus station holding a sign.  Unlike these days, you didn’t have to ask for a list of included amenities, cross-check her on multiple platforms or stalk her on social media.  No-one needed to be smiley and happy in those days, for fear that the other person would write a bad review


Rent and hotel prices in Tel Aviv is on par with    with a surname of the host.  It makes social media stalking that much more time consuming when you only have a first name to go by.  Anyway, my stalking paid off.  Everything here is fine, but still, sharing an apartment is sharing an apartment.


As I mentioned before, the last time I was in Israel was in 2000.  It was 18 years ago and I was obviously 18 years younger.  You experience life and the world differently in your thirties as you do in your fifties.  I think also distance and time lend a certain enchantment.  We tend to romanticise and build things up in our minds  when we are away from them.  I had also at that time travelled solo through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, so arriving in Tel Aviv was like seeing an oasis in the desert.  Bottom line is that I’m not getting the high pitched buzz out of Tel Aviv that I was expecting.  The food is indeed delicious, even simple street food is amazing… And the nightlife is better than Sydney’s.  What does that even mean, “the nightlife is better than Sydney’s”… I’m sure even Damascus and Bagdad have better nightlife than Sydney these days.  Nonetheless, I don’t think the reality of Tel Aviv as this amazing 24/7 party and foodie destination quite lives up to the hype (or at least my expectation).  As a result, I’m escaping Tel Aviv and heading north to Haifa for a couple of days.


Shortly I’m heading for the train station to make the one hour trip to Haifa.  My main reason for going there is to visit the mosques and old city of Acre and the biblical sites in Nazareth.  I’m not sure how I’ll go… The heat is absolutely.  It makes walking extremely difficult and what’s more you’re expected to wear long pants to enter the mosque.  If the same climate of political correctness whereby the locals need to adapt to ME and being offended is my greatest weapon were present here, I could just enter the mosque in shorts carrying a four litre cask of wine and claim it’s all religious.  Shorts are acceptable in my religion and wine is given at holy communion.  But hey, let’s see… Maybe just seeing the outside will be enough.


Here are a few random snappies from around Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  Tel Aviv and Jaffa are not exactly a photographers dream, especially after Istanbul.  But hey, here’s Jaffa



And Tel Aviv…