A very cultural week

*** Warning! Long blow-by-blow post. Please feel free to skip as necessary!


The gorgeous Belvedere Palace

As I wrote in my last post, the trip to Vienna was booked before we  knew that were going to Sri Lanka. But in any case of course Vienna and Sri Lanka are going to be very different experiences. We had never been to Austria before, partly because of my bias against the German language, but we decided it was worth a try.

So we packed up and flew off to our lovely air bnb care of one Anton Herzl. We got the airport bus to downtown for a cheap 13 Euro return (being careful not to lose the return part of the ticket!)

The flat was very well located, 5 minutes walk from the U-bahn subway station and a leisurely 20 minutes do the city centre along the Danube canal. We mostly walked down and travelled back by subway when we were exhausted. U-bahn has a flat rate of 2.20 Euro and is easy to negotiate, and all the machines are in English as well as German.

The first day we ventured down town and just wandered around to see what we could see. WE saw the Parliament buildings (which are very impressive, but didn’t take the organized tour) the  City hall or Rathaus building, and the huge Museum quarter. Everywhere there are statues, and highly ornate neo-classical, baroque and a few art deco style buildings. IT’s all rather ovewhelming, and it’s hard not to constantly stop and take pictures. We then walked back through the gardens of the Rathaus and around the area of the Imperial Hofburg Palace.

On our second day we first went to find the ticket office to collect our ticket for the Vienna Boys’ Choir, which we would hear the following Sunday in the Mozart Mass at the Imperial Palace Chapel. After this we visited the Albertina Museum for the fantastic Chagall to Malevitch and Monet to Picasso exhibitions. Then we hit the Naschmarkt open food market and partook of our first proper Schnitzel. Actually it was hard to decide where to eat as there were so many lovely looking restaurants, but we finally picked one, and then wandered around a bit (taking more photos of course) There was a nice Asian place where the waiters were all Chinese, so we chatted a bit to them and came back there the next day.

In the evening we attended a meeting of Vienna Couchsurfing at a small bar, and met people from Vienna, Spain, Colombia, Finland and even Syria and Palestine. It was fun but hard to talk to everyone as there were so many people. When we left it was pouring with rain so we took a taxi home, as we were not sure how to negotiate the tram.

The third day was spent entirely at the amazing Imperial Palace the Hofburg, which has several different parts, and it is difficult to see everything if you don’t want to be “castled out”. As rather limited animal fans we passed on the Riding school, but if you are a horsey person you can do that. We saw the Silver collection and the Sissi Apartments, which show a peek into the lives of Franz Josef and his young wife Elizabeth (the Sissi of the movie fame) and it was a very interesting experience and made me want to brush up on my history. Everything was fascinating and beautifully laid out.We then returned to the Naschmarkt for supper to get a bit of Stir fry and practise our Chinese on the waiters.

The next day being Holocaust Day in Israel we identified by visiting both Holocaust Museums in Vienna. We found them rather underwhelming after all the grandeur of the Hapsburg palaces, especially as the museums themselves are not very well laid out or labelled, or even that easy to find. The first one in Judenplatz was particularly uninspiring, and had a temporary exhibition of documents relating to Simon Weisenthal. The second one was better and had a special exhibition on the contribution of Jews to modern music, and this had a very good audio visual commentary accessible by smart phone.In the evening we had tickets to a Mozart concert held in the Sala Terrena, one of the (many) houses occupied by Mozart during his time in Vienna. The concert was lovely but even more impressive were the decorations in the hall itself,which were just gorgeous.

Day 5 was a visit to the incredible Belvedere Palace. It was hard to choose where to go, as there is also the Schonbrun Palace, which we were told is completely different and also amazing, but one can’t see everything,right? Anyway the Belvedere was indeed lovely, and quite easy to get to on foot,by walking through the lovely Stadpark. Fortunately the Stadpark had a food fair going on that day, so we had a great Viennese hot dog on the way as an added bonus. On arrival at the Belvedere, we noticed some workers erecting lots of scaffolding and a small stage, and decorating everything with flowers. There was no seating so it wasn’t a concert. We discovered that the place had been hired by a very rich Indian family for a wedding, to which 1,000 guests had been invited. Apparently this is a “thing” now. There are two palaces, actually the Upper and Lower, and the gardens. Fearing exhaustion we chose only the Upper, where the famous “Kiss” picture by Klimt is housed, and were not disappointed. There are rooms upon rooms of gorgeous artworks and it just goes on and on… Anyway the visit to the Belvedere, with its ornate rooms and galleries was another wonderful day out in Vienna.

Dan wanted to have a glimpse of the Danube proper and not just the Canal, so the next day we walked via the Karmelite market towards the river. The market, in Leopoldstrasse, a Jewish neighbourhood of Vienna, was quite nice but nothing amazing. But on our way to the river we walked through the Prater amusement park which was nothing short of splendid. I am not usually a fan of these things but the big wheel was indeed impressive and the whole place had a sort of yesteryear charm to it which was quite lovely, added to the fact that the sun was shining. We reached the Danube eventually, which was, as I had feared rather disappointing. There were no restaurants or cafes along its banks, as there are along the canal, and frankly nothing at all to do there. SO we decided to head back to the area around the Stefansdom, the iconic church set in the Stefansplatz, and the beating heart of the Innere Stadt. There we went up to the top of the spire in the lift, and enjoyed a view out over the city.


D on the Danube


Amusement park at Prater

There were still a few more surprises for us in Vienna. We had tickets for the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing the Mozart Mass in the Imperial Hofburg Chapel. I had not realized this would be a “proper” Mass and not just a concert. This was a rather weird anthropological experience for us good Jews, never having attended Mass before. I was rather worried they would call us up to do whatever it is you do with the host and the wine, but fortunately we didn’t have to do that. The choir was of course outstanding and the accoustics were incredible. The whole experience was very special. Our final musical experience was actually devoid of music. We did a tour of the Opera house, which was very interesting, but didn’t attend a performance, as we couldn’t get tickets, and I didn’t fancy queueing up for 3 hours to stand through something that we didn’t know well, and there were only performances of less well-known operas on, so we decided to pass.

Our last day in Vienna we returned to Stefansplatz a bit( quick glass of white wine and marching band!) and then walked along the canal again to just chill out and try and take in all the sights. We were blessed with gorgeous hot weather, and chanced upon a cafe restaurant, amusingly named Tel Aviv beach, complete with sand, deck chairs, hummus and pita (which we didn’t eat) and a great view of the canal.


Imperial Box at the Opera House

Thus ended our week and we now have a month to get ready for the next adventure- Sri Lanka! Bring it on…



Our Exciting summer plan

If you had asked me a month ago what we have planned for this summer it would have gone something like this- hang out around our new place in Israel, go to the beach, hear some music,and maybe go away to some nice European destination for a few days.

Well part of that has not changed. WE are in fact going to Vienna for a week in May, and I have already booked tickets to a classical concert in period costume and a performance of the Vienna boys’ choir, and booked our cute little air b nb  accommodation (Anton Herzl’s apartment ). But then a little ad on the EFL teachers’ website   Dave’s ESL cafe caught my eye- teaching Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka for one month. Well, not being one to pass up an opportunity I popped them off my CV and sure enough a few days later I was having a Skype interview with a lovely man called Paul. Paul works for a Volunteer Not for Profit organization called  Give a Fig . They were looking for two teachers to teach at the only Buddhist University in the world the Bhiksu University of Sri Lanka . The job would be for 30 days but only the first 20 days are the teaching program. At the end of 20 days you are taken on a tour of the heritage sites and historical interest places on the island. Also, the students are not undergraduates, but are lecturers at the University. They lecture on many different topics including Buddhist philosophy.

From here on, things started to move pretty fast. We had another two talks to Paul on Skype and today we received a draft contract which we were asked to approve/ suggest any changes. We will now get the signature of the Vice Dean, after which we can book our tickets! The tickets will be reimbursed at the end of our stay. Plus, we get free accommodation and a cook, and driver! All this is rather exciting, not to mention overwhelming. Paul and the Reverend Mediyawe Piyaratana , head of the English program, assured us not to worry about a thing. They will make sure the accommodation is to our satisfaction, with portable a/c unit and they will fix the wifi.


By the way, the name of the place we will be based is  Anuradhapura, a UNESCO world heritage site.

WE have no clue how this is all going to turn out, and like when we went to China, we have no expectations, either positive or negative. But to say we aren’t excited – well, I ain’t gonna lie! Stand by for online visa and innoculations!


Buddhasravaka-Bhiksu-University-226_2 Continue reading

Our new home- Leaving the Holy City

After returning from China rather hurriedly in March and returning to Israel, we have now relocated to a different part of the country-the Sharon. As the restless person you all know me to be, if I can’t currently globe-trot at least I can explore a different part of this country. Israel is very small but nevertheless, a very varied place, both culturally, geographically and in practically every way possible. We lived in the city of Jerusalem, and all that entails, for better or worse, for over 30 years. The birds have flown the nest, and we are now retired, so free to live anywhere we choose. Of course living by the seaside was something we both considered, particularly after living in Xiamen. But seaside residences in Herzliya or Tel Aviv are horrendously expensive. So we decided to try and find a community city within easy driving distance of Tel Aviv, and we found Kfar Saba to be a rather appealing small, clean town.It has lots of green spaces, lots of cultural activities, and generally seemed to be what we were looking for.It also has the added attraction of being only 15-20 minutes drive from several beaches, and it’s affordable.

After not a particularly long search we located a new 4 room apartment right in the centre of town, only a short walk from the Weizman, the main drag, and moved in here in August.

So far we have explored the area a little, but are still getting settled in.We have found the Argaman beach of South Netanya to be wonderfully convenient and not crowded. It is a quick 30 minute train ride to Tel Aviv and all its cultural offerings, and only an hour drive to Jerusalem.

There seem to be lots of bits of the Sharon to investigate. Some we have seen before, such as the amazing Roman city of Caesarea, and the Ramat Hanadiv park near to Zichron Ya’akov, which is well worth a visit. But there are lots more places we hope to explore over the next few months.


Wonderful sky at Netanya Argaman Beach

To the north it is about an hour’s drive to Haifa, along the Mediterranean coast, and the surrounding area of the Galilee is filled with wonderful places. On a past trip to the north,we visited the artists’ Village of Ein Hod, which has many amazing galleries, workshops and sculptures dotted around.

Sculpture at Ein Hod

Sculpture at Ein Hod

Interesting trees at Ramat Hanadiv

Interesting trees at Ramat Hanadiv


Interesting trees at Ramat Hanadiv Park

Kingfisher at Nahal Alexander in the Sharon

Kingfisher at Nahal Alexander in the Sharon

This is not to say that I am not planning another trip. Of course another trip abroad is always on the agenda. We toyed with going to teach in Panama, but it’s not the right time for us to be so far away from our family right now.Then we considered going to teach in Spain.But frankly the working conditions in China are really hard to beat, and European salaries come with no accommodation and no travel money or flight reimbursement.So we are considering a more “holiday-style” trip abroad, maybe to Canada first. That will not be before next May.And then we will see what happens …

Arrivederci China- in which Piglet learns that Hong Kong is not China

I just read the last line of the previous post “Stand by for further adventures” Well here is one….

This is going to sound incredibly strange after reading the previous post but- my close friends already know that my life is a whirlwind. The one thing you need to know in life is that things do not go as planned.WE had planned to go back to Xiamen but apparently something or somebody had another plan for us.In retrospect it seems that it was destined to be (and I don’t believe in fate but you have to admit it’s a little odd).Here are the signs: First our visas took for ever to fix this time- we nearly gave up and stayed put.But we really WANTED to go back.Then after 8 months of trying to sell our apartment,we finally signed a contract TWO DAYS before our flight out.It was really weird timing.It would have been better to stay put and pack up and look for a new apartment.But hey, never mind,we thought.It will all sort out.But somehow it didn’t.

After the back injury finally started to improve I suddenly got the most horrendously strong pains in my stomach – think Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. I was throwing up endlessly and generally feeling dreadful The hard furniture in the apartment made it impossible for me to relax,sit or lie anywhere.I was in constant agony. Ok no problem pop off to the Taiwanese Hospital and get checked out.(Bear in mind this is a week after we have done our mandatory medical check for the school and been given the all clear).Doc looks at me for 3 minutes and says”Gastroenteritis” and gives me some pills.WE trot back home. THe next day the pains are WAY worse- and I mean writhing on the bed unable to eat,or sleep and screaming with pain.Odd I think.I have had gastroenteritis numerous  times and it never felt like this. And I am still throwing up.The next day Mr Piglet goes to take my class for me cos I can’t stand up, let alone go down 4 flights of stairs and up 4 flights of stairs to the classroom.

By the afternoon I am really scared.I call him while he is in the supermarket and he says ” Shall I just leave the shopping and come?” “Yes!” I groan. We phone the International Office again and ask to be taken back to the hospital. There we go to A and E (no appointment this time) and see various doctors. I do a CT and a blood test and have my BP checked. After some time they announce I have gall stones and they will operate. This is the point where I suddenly put my foot down. Mr P thinks we should stay put- he is afraid something really bad is going to happen.Me too- but for me the “something bad” means staying there. I happen to know that for gall bladder removal you do laproscopic surgery and here in China they want to cut me open with a BIG cut. Plus, here you need to know that Chinese hospitals don’t usually have the latest equipment, and the general conditions for patients leave something to be desired.For example,nurses don’t bring you food,or take you to the bathroom etc. So I just said “NO get me out of here NOW”. WE then called the head of the Foreign Affairs Office of our school who came over,despite it being 11pm and her husband’s birthday.I have to say she was wonderful and very kind. She looked at me and just said” I suggest you go to Hong Kong”.

SO that was what we did. OF course it was a bit complicated- mainly because our passports were still at the Immigration Office getting our visas done.We couldn’t buy a plane ticket to HK with no passport.Then I tried to buy tickets online and my credit card was rejected. Finally the Foreign Affairs lady called a ticket office and booked for us- the tickets were sent over by courier and we paid cash.So we got our passports back at 12.00 noon and flew out of Xiamen to HK at 4pm! Here I will introduce you to my guardian angel, N. N lives in HK and is a lawyer from the UK who has been a family friend since I was about 9.He used to tease me when I was a kid. I called N on Skype before we left Xiamen and explained what had happened and he said “Don’t worry” .He met us at the airport,took us home,gave us supper (which I couldn’t eat) and said tomorrow morning at 10.30 am you have an appointment with the top Laproscopic surgeon in the Hong Kong Sanatorjum, a

VERY upscale establishment. N had checked out online to find the best guy,and this was it.

So the next day we turned up there and the moment I saw the place and the doctor I knew it was going to be okay.Dr Michael Li was a graduate of Barts’ Hospital in London,spoke perfect English and told me exactly what he would do in the operations for Monday and Tuesday.He suggested I stay in right away so they could do various tests.The hospital offered me a semi -private room on the 30th floor with a view of Hong Kong,  immediately.Here again.N was amazing.When our credit card didn’t go through on the machine he gave his own to guarantee payment of the hospital bill. We couldn’t thank him enough.He also gave me a HK phone with internet access.In short he was our angel. From here on it was plain sailing of course. The room had internet,television,movies , an amazingly comfortable bed which I never wanted to leave.With the push of a button 3 giggling nurses came running to attend to me,and bring me my meals off an a la carte menu. It was heaven.And they had lovely drugs like Pethedine to make the pain go away.


Me in my hospital bed

hospital view

View of Hong Kong from the hospital window

The surgery went well  and Dr Li released me to home rest after 5 days. I now have to observe a special diet of course ( no fats, no spices) but I just thank my lucky stars every day that I insisted on flying to HK and didn’t do the surgery in Xiamen.The insurance have paid for my hospitalization. This week I will see my GP and see what I need to do next.

So now I am back recuperating at home.It is great to be with family and friends,especially since we arrived just in time for Pessach….

As I said before, my life is a whirlwind!

Back in the Big Silly

After 8 months back home here we are back in Jimei. After a slight mishap at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport where I attempted to lift a 23kg suitcase onto a trolley and felt my back give way with a loud crack,I have become much wiser,and am gradually feeling my back improve.The first week here was agonizing.I can now get out of bed without giving a massive groan of pain.

Our new apartment is right in the University campus of Jimei University, pretty  close to our old one,but for some reason it all feels totally different.Arriving back here was comfortingly familiar.WE knew how to get from Hong Kong airport to Shenzhen and we knew how to get to the train station to board the fast train (max speed 300 kph) back to Xiamen.At the North station we were met by staff of the International department and taken straight to our apartment.Here we were met by friends we knew from before,and that too was comforting and nice. Of course there are many differences.The apartment is much smaller than our old one,but reasonably comfortable- and hey,when you get a free apartment with phone,TV,microwave,and computer you should be grateful,right? Our campus is right across from the Wanda Plaza shopping centre, which has shops,restaurants and supermarkets,even a Starbucks.And five minutes in the other direction is Shigu Lu student street with tons of shops and coffee bars so all is well.Or it would be if there wasn’t military marching music played full blast every morning at 6.30am ( bar weekends,thank god)/ We still need to bring various things we left at the old apartment over here,such as plates,cups etc, and then it will be great.

The campus itself is pretty nice,not as impressive as Lin’an,but with plenty of trees,statues,grass,a huge lake with benches along it and lots of cafeterias.


Campus lake


One of the many campus statues

Yesterday we went over to see our friend Celine the dance teacher and were amazed to see how her new dance school is coming along.The whole place has been revamped and she has another couple of branches around town,and has about 400 students.Angela,who is her assistant,and was D’s private student last year,told us it was Celine’s birthday and that we were to join her at the KTV where she was celebrating.So she whisked us off in her car to the KTV.As D remarked,when you get up in the morning in China you never know where you are going to end up.At the KTV we met Celine’s sister and brother in law,and some other friends.WE had forgotten how odd the whole Chinese KTV experience is,but it was a laugh,and there was beer and lots of very odd snacks,most of which I didn’t eat.I did eat a lot of almonds though.


Celine at her KTV birthday celebration

After Celine dropped us back home we met up with our old mate Bernard,who teaches at Xiamen University.He had been hanging out with some other friends in the Wanda Plaza so he came over to our apartment to chat for a bit.

Stand by for further adventures……


Me and Bernard


Night view from our balcony

My whirlwind life

I have not written much in recent months, since our trip to the North with Renee and Barry,and it’s hard to say if that is because not much has happened or because too much has happened.I will explain.After we came back from Xiamen in July we thought we would stay here.WE put our apartment on the market and we waited.And waited.And got bored.And tried to imagine our life here in Israel,without travel,without China,without adventure.WE realized we are not ready for that yet. We thought about going elsewhere- maybe Mexico,or Panama,or Ecuador.All these places I know are seeking EFL teachers.I sent out CVs,I waited.I did some background reading,trying to visualize us sitting in each of these places.Anyway eventually we decided that since China only accepts foreign teachers up to the age of 60 we decided to give China one more shot.And so I got a job back in Xiamen again but this time at Jimei University, where we already have many friends. In the meantime,we thought,we will leave our house with an agent,and forget about the sale,till we get back.Then began the interminable visa processing,which seemed much more rigorous this time around,certainly more than the first year we went to Lin’an. This time they asked for all kinds of extra stuff, including a Police Clearance report. After much running around,our visas were done a whole month before we were due to leave.


Snow on our balcony

Suddenly a buyer for our house popped up.They need the house quickly.They want us to vacate in two months! Since this happened a mere week before we were due to fly to Hong Kong, we explained that was “No can do”. However, they liked the apartment and wanted it,and we liked them.So finally we negotiated the deal and were due to sign last Thursday.(5 days before our departure) .Yossi,the laywer called on Thursday.”They can’t sign today – they haven’t finalized the sale of their own place”.Ok we thought never mind.WE will do it in the summer.Saturday night (2 days before our flight ) Yossi called again.(I gloss over the two day weekend when 25 cm of snow fell in Jerusalem and the city ground to a halt).Yossi said “Come to the office SUnday morning 9 am”.SO yesterday at 10am we finally signed the deal on our apartment sale,and tomorrow we fly back to Hong Kong and on to Xiamen.In July we return to pack up our house and vacate by August 5th,by which date we are officially homeless. My friend said,”You always do everything at the last minute,” .I don’t think it’s me,I think it’s just life.


Mural in Downtown Jerusalem

The beautiful North

After showing our dear friends Renee and Barry around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea area we took a trip up to the North of Israel to attend the Jacobs Ladder Folk Festival and to show them a bit of the North of the country. On the way up I had to work in Yaffo,so D showed them around the Ancient Port of Jaffa,and then we jumped in the car and set off,stopping en route to have lunch on the beautiful beach front of Natanya. We ate sandwiches looking at the sea, and marvelled at the blue sky and warm weather,despite it being December.


Natanya Sky

On arrival at the site of the festival, Nof Ginossar we settled into our rooms in the Village,signed in to the festival, and checked out the performers. The festival runs over Friday evening and all day Saturday, and is a wonderful mix of folk,rock,blues and jazz music in a great atmosphere.Our family has been going for many years and we love the informal feel and the whole experience of being detached from TV,radio,politics and the like for a whole weekend.It is truly refreshing. The venue,perched on the Sea of Galilee, is always attractive.You can stroll around the kibbutz and check out the Jesus Boat which was found onsite. The next morning we really enjoyed the massive breakfast,and the whole festival was a blast.

Breakfast at Nof Ginosar Kibbutz Hotel

Breakfast at Nof Ginosar Kibbutz Hotel

Once the festival was over, on Saturday afternoon we drove round the Sea of Galilee to Yavne’el a small village in the Galilee area where we had booked an Air BnB place for the night at the house of Lesley, a place called Tuscany in the Galilee.The place was a little hard to find,but Lesley’s baker husband Menny directed us to the place over the phone.We found the most charming house built on a hill which had a superb view of the whole area from our balcony window.We chatted a bit with Lesley and went to bed.The breakfast,which Lesley (from Colchester in the UK) had apologized the night before would only be “continental” was in fact a superb spread of freshly baked cakes,croissants and foccaccia, served with freshly squeezed orange juice from the oranges on the neighbour’s tree,and fresh coffee.It was all just too wonderful,just look!

Breakfast in Yavne'el

Breakfast in Yavne’el

View from the balcony,Yavne'el

View from the balcony,Yavne’el


View of Yavneel

Lesley explained that they run a coffee place in Ramat Gan,and every week,Menny comes home to do the baking and then takes everything down there to sell.On our last day up north we went round the Sea of Galilee again and up north to Katzrin,the Capital of the Golan since Biblical times.We visited the ancient Synagogue there and then went on to do a guided tour of the Katzrin Winery which was both interesting and tasty.WE saw the whole of the wine production process and got to taste 3 different wines at the end.

The Katzrin Winery

The Katzrin Winery

We would have loved to show Renee and Barry some additional sites in the North, such as Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border,or Pekiin, a village where Jews and Arabs have lived together peaceably for generations,but it was beginning to get late and we had a long drive ahead of us back to Jerusalem.So there is always more to see next time.