D288. June 16. Dead Sea

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Dead Sea shore. Lillian has finally decided to drink some water… Good, because the surroundings are quite hostile !

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And it looks like some didn’t make it ! Let’s give it a try, how do we float in there ???

Salt is very corrosive, of course, so we didn’t stay in there for long. But we had fun !!!

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The Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline in the world. With 34.2% salinity, it is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, though Lake Vanda in Antartica  (35%), Lake Assal in Djibouti (34.8%), Lagoon Garabogazkol in Casien Sea (35%) and some hypersaline ponds and lakes of the Dry Valleys in Antartica (44%) have reported higher salinities.

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It is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name.

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It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod)… Let’s see how the local mud feels like…

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Five minutes to spread, one hour to get rid of it, it is high time to leave… But we will certainly not regret the mountains reflection on the sea, the salty waters evaporation giving to the local light a peculiar vibrancy…

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D288. June 16. Massada, the fallen fortress

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Masada is an ancient fortification situated on top of an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert (map here). Herod built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE.


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According to Flavius Josephus, roman historian, the Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish-Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 rebels and their families hiding there.

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But to me, the most impressive are not the ruins, but the breathtaking view on the Dead Sea… Isn’t it, Lillian ?

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Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David.

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On the other side, Jordan.

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After the Aral Sea, another salty landscape… In recent decades, the Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking because of diversion of incoming water from the Jordan River to the north.

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At a regional conference in July 2009, officials expressed increased concerns about the declining water levels. Some suggested various industrial activities around the Dead Sea might need to be reduced. Others advised a range of possible environmental measures to restore conditions. This might include increasing the volume of flow from the Jordan River to replenish the Dead Sea. Currently, only sewage and effluent from fish ponds run in the river’s channel.

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Experts also asserted a need for strict conservation efforts. They also said agriculture should not be expanded, sustainable support capabilities should be incorporated into the area and pollution sources should be reduced.

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The Dead Sea seawater has a density of 1.240 kg/L, which makes swimming similar to floating… Let’s see how it looks like…

I need you : Vote For my Travel Pictures !!!

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Dear friends, readers, followers,
I have submitted 12 pictures to the National Geographic Photo Contest of the year.
If you’ve liked my pictures, can you please vote for them, like them on Facebook, share their links on your wall, or retweet my tweets (my Tweeter account being @MyScenicRailway) ?

Here are the 12 links to the 12 pictures on the NG website :

Mea She’arim… Under cover.

Mea She’arim is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and populated by Haredi Jews. It was established in 1874 as the second settlement outside the walls of the Old City. It remains today an insular neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem, as life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish texts.

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“Groups passing through our neighborhoods severely offend the residents, please stop this”, says the poster. “To women and girls who pass through our neighborhood, we beg you with all our hearts, please do not pass through our neighborhood in immodest clothes. Modest clothes include : closed blouse, with long sleeves, long skirt, no trousers, no tight fitting clothes. Please do not disturb the sanctity of our neighborhood, and our way of life as jews committed to G-D and his torah”.

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Of course, pictures are not welcomed and I left my GoPro in my pocket, which explains the weird perspective of my pictures. Though, I think it still conveys the strange atmosphere of the place, reminding somehow the Eastern European shtetl…

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D287. June 15. The Holly Center of the Universe – Part 2

Jerusalem. Yerushalayim. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
In the Souk, in Arab streets, signs of Jesus can already be noticed…

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We loose our way several times in that maze of small identical lanes but, hopefully, there is always someone to tell us were to go. Everyone gets that we are probably not here to by a carpet but more likely to go to the Holy Sepulcher…

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The site is venerated as Golgotha (the Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified, and is said also to contain the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulcher). The church has been a paramount – and for many Christians the most important – pilgrimage destination since at least the 4th century, as the purported site of the resurrection of Jesus.

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Today it also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. The above lamps that hang over the unction stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

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… About the unction stone (The Stone of Anointing)… Tradition claims its is the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Do those two women kissing it know the present stone was only added in the 1810 reconstruction of the church ???

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This evocative painting overhangs the entrance of the Aedicule, in the centre of the church rotunda. This chapel contains the Holy Sepulcher itself.

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But neither Lillian nor me entered the place. In fact, we were less impressed by the historicity of the place than by was going on there : processions were taking place in every single part of the Church and we ere trying to follow them as discretely as possible…

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Which wasn’t an easy thing since I was wearing shorts. So Lillian was covering me…

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When we entered the church, we were stroke by this woman, who looked like a Pieta.

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When we finally got out of the church one hour later… It looked like she had gave up…

D287. June 15. The Holly Center of the Universe – Part 1

Jerusalem. Yerushalayim.
You pass through the gates of the old town, pass through the souk and dozens of small lanes and then, all the sudden, you get to see it, and you get a shiver of excitement, a frisson : The Western Wall (Mur des lamentations) is here.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.08.09 Built 2000 years ago, it was merely a retaining wall supporting the outer portion of the Temple Mount. But following the destruction of the Temple in 70 (by Titus and Vespasien, Roman emperors), Jews were sent to exile and the precise location of the Temple was lost. Upon their return, they avoided the Temple Mount, fearing that they might step on the Holy of Holies, the ancient inner sanctum of the Temple. Instead, this wall became a place of pilgrimage…

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.08.29Behind, the Dome of the Rock. It covers a slab of stone sacred to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. According to Jewish tradition, it was here that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son and from which, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The mosque was built in in 688 to compete with the imposing Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher…

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.18.45In 1948, the Jews lost access to the Wall when the Old City was taken by the Jordanians and the population of the Jewish Quarter was expelled. The Israeli Army fought their way directly to the Wall during the Six Day War in 1967.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.10.09 It now looks like an open-air synagogue, divided into two areas…

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.10.23Men on the left (above), women on the right (below)… Where is toilet paper ?

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.19.31When leaving the Wall, people don’t turn around but step back, to still face the Wall.

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Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.19.55This woman on the left seat wears a wig. Indeed, Orthodox Jews cover their hair…

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.10.56Hasidic Jews rock backward and forward on their heels, bobbing their heads in prayer, occasionally breaking off to press themselves against the Wall and kiss the stones.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.16.53Hasidic Judaism is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality through the popularization and internalization of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspect of the faith (for what it means).

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.17.44It was founded in Poland during the 18th century, before spreading in Eastern and Central Europe.


Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.16.09Above, a Lubavitch, recognizable by his peculiar hat. It is one of the hassidic currents. The movement was born in the 18th century in Lyubavichi, in the Smolensk Oblast, a Russian region in between Minsk and Moscow.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.09.55 The strings you see under their jackets are called tzitzit in English, tsilsit in French. Those specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews are attached to the four corners of the tallit (prayer shawl).
It comes from this Torah sentence : “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue thread.”

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Payot in Hebrew, sidelocks in English, Paillotes in French. This is the name of orthodox Jews and rabbis strands of hair. The Torah says, “You shall not round off the Pe’at of your head”. The word Pe’at was taken to mean the hair in front of the ears extending to beneath the cheekbone, on a level with the nose.
Capture d’écran 2014-06-19 à 09.09.18Many Hasidic and Yemenite Jews let their sidelocks grow particularly long. Even among Jewish groups in which the men do not wear noticeable payot, often the young boys do wear them until around the age of Bar Mitzvah.

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D285. June 13. A Rainbow in Tel Aviv

Capture d’écran 2014-06-18 à 21.56.44Last Friday, ten of thousands of people took part in the city’s annual gay pride parade.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-18 à 21.55.4280 000 persons according to the police, 100 000 according to the organizations.

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And 25 000 tourists were there.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-18 à 21.53.49The city has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations in recent years, in sharp contrast to the rest of the region.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-18 à 21.52.48A marche by the beach, not to bad, isn’t it ?

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Capture d’écran 2014-06-18 à 21.56.31 Drag queens wearing heavy makeup, dresses with sequins and high heels bounced along to the music alongside scantily clad men and women.

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Officially, there is no gay marriage in Israel, primarily because there is no civil marriage of any kind. All Jewish weddings must be conducted through the Jewish rabbinate, which considers homosexuality a sin and a violation of Jewish law.

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But the state recognizes same-sex couples who marry abroad.

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Among most Palestinians, gays tend to be secretive about their social lives. In the West Bank, a 1951 Jordanian law banning homosexual acts remains in effect, as does a ban in Gaza passed by British authorities in 1936.

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Tel Aviv’s openness to gays stands in contrast to conservative Jerusalem, just a short drive away, home to some of the holiest sites to Judaism, Christianity and Islam… You will see tomorrow… But before, that :