Breakfast at Israel’s


Of course I’ve been eating falafels, what else ?


Meanwhile, Lillian was ordering fish, always extremely tasty here…

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Together with (quite some) bottles of red wine…

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“Galil”, “Gloan”, say the labels. Isn’t it an invitation to travel ?

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Without Lillian around, though, I was mainly having breakfasts.
Above, together with my Turkish Coffee, I am enjoying a Sahlav (pronounce sarrlav).
It is made from hot salep cream, served with coconut, nuts and cinnamon – You might remember salep from a trip to Istanbul, where they are sold in the streets in the winter time.
Sahlav – meaning “orchid” in Hebrew and Arabic – is a thick Middle Eastern milk-based pudding that is drunk as the weather begins to get cold. Sahlav originally appeared in the Middle East during the Roman era. The original recipe calls for ground up orchid bulbs, which are used to thicken up the pudding. However, a more common approach to creating this drink is to use corn flour.
Part pudding, part drink- sahlav is sweet, comforting and believed to be an aphrodisiac… Let’s see…

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And this is another breakfast dish : Malawach.
Malawash looks like a thick pancake and it consists of thin layers of puff pastry brushed with oil and cooked flat in a frying pan. It is traditionnally served with a crushed or grated tomato dip, hard boiled eggs and skhug (a condiment made of hot peppers, coriand, garlic).
This fried bread that is a staple of the Yemenite Jews, and through their immigration of to Israel, it has become a favorite comfort food for Israelis of all backgrounds and national origins.
A bread similar to malawach is also known as paratha in Indian cuisine.


Another dish offered for breakfast :  Shakshouka. A dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, often spiced with cumin. It is believed to have a Tunisian origin.

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But should you prefer junk food, don’t worry, there are Mc Donalds in Israel as well !

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 :




D280. June 8. Istanbul, un pont entre deux rives

Je tourne le dos à l’Asie Centrale et rejoins Istanbul pour une courte journée de transition entre les continents…

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Une légère brise souffle sur la Place Taksim, entrée dans la légende à l’aune du Printemps Arabe. Nous ne sommes qu’en début d’après-midi et pourtant la lumière imite les vibrations d’un coucher de soleil. L’air est jaune orangé et l’atmosphère paisible.
Au fil de la journée, la foule remplit la place. Flan Ouest on prend la direction des boutiques d’İstiklâl Caddesi, alors qu’à l’Est des marchands ambulants préparent salep, thé noir ou vert, kebabs et pains ronds, pour ceux qui, comme moi, n’ont rien d’autre à faire que de déambuler entre les passants. Salam aleykoum. Aleykoum salam.

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On a tout dit, tout écrit, sur la Byzance des Grecs, la Constantinople de l’Empire romain d’Orient et la capitale des sultans Ottomans. Istanbul. Et le Bosphore. Pont entre deux cultures. On a tout dit et pourtant on aimerait le redire. Cette ville prête au rêve, à la contemplation, et réveille l’âme du poète.

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Au sud de Taksim, le quartier de Sultanahmet. D’un côté l’église Sainte-Sophie dont le gigantesque dôme fait le bonheur des pigeons, et de l’autre la Mosquée Bleue. On touche du doigt l’oecuménisme dont on rêverait tant pour cette région du monde.

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On oublie trop souvent que la Turquie fût l’un des premiers pays laïcs du monde, comme semblent aussi l’oublier ses dirigeants actuels, qui par petites touches mettent à mal un Etat tantôt séculaire. Demain je m’envole pour Israël, ou les laïcs semblent eux aussi, souffrir d’un retour du religieux… (A Suivre).

My “Stan” Countries…

Kirghizistan (KI), Uzbekistan (UZ), Kazakhstan (KA). What are their common points ?

What about the language?
In KA, everyone speaks Russian, they have almost no knowledge of their original language.
In KI, everyone knows Russian, would speak it with you, but they would speak their own language when they are together.
In UZ, Russian comes as a second language, and some people don’t even speak it.

What about their English skills?
I’m not sure they know more than Russians but they are highly interested in talking to foreigners to practice their skills. In Tashkent for example, as I was taking the metro, two young students decided not to get out at their station but stayed with me until I reached my destination, so that we could chat together.

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What about religion?
In KA, you will find as many orthodox churches as mosques.
In KI, there is a mosque in every single village. Though, people don’t go everyday. Mainly on Fridays, and still, when they have time only. The adhan (prier call from the minaret) is even forbidden.
In UZ, it looks like they pray more often. Whenever they hear a prayer, they would freeze, open their hands like if they were holding an open Koran, and pray.  Around 85% of Uzbeks claim to be Muslim (nearly all are the Hanafi Sunni variety), although only around 5% to 15% are practicing.

What about women?
No veils. Scarfs for old women in KI, and one most of women outside of Tashkent in UZ. As a matter of fact, in Bishkek (KI) and Tashkent (UZ), the youth is completely westernized. In KA, Astana’s youth seems trendier than in Almaty. And you could even meet there some bimbos in a Russian style.
Though, Uzbek women struggle for equality. Considered second-class citizens in the workplace and in the home, women are not given the same rights as their Western counterparts, or their Kyrgyz and Kazakh neighbors. Domestic violence occurs in 40% of Uzbek homes, yet overall household control lies in the hands of the husband’s mother. Abuse, however, rarely leads to divorce, and there are occasional reports of suicide by self- immolation, a cultural trait that dates back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism.

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What about their knowledge of France ?
All of them know Mireille Mathieu, Piaf, Brel. My driver to the Isyk-Kol Lake in KI was able to sing some of their hits. And I remembered that when I was in Ekaterinburg, Russia, we saw posters featuring the next Patricia Kass concert. Several time, in bars, coffee shops, or on the radio, I heard French songs.

And of course, they all know about the Eiffel Tower. My driver to the Aral Sea has made it is anthem: He wants to see the Eiffel Tower.
More surprisingly, all of them heard about the gay marriage that was voted last year in France. This is the first thing the taxi driver who picked me up at the Bishkek Airport asked me : “Are there many gays in France ?”. He knew everything about the debate and didn’t seem judgmental, just very curious. The son of Dilbar, in Almaty, asked me completely out of the blue : “Is Hollande gay ?”. Unbelievable. He don’t hear a single thing about those countries and they know everything about mine…

What about their vision of USSR ?
Overall, all the people I talked to miss USSR and their independence in 1991 was a chock. “Before, we wouldn’t have to worry about our future”, said my Tashkent (UZ) taxi driver. “We used to have social services, and we miss that”. “Poor people are more poor and rich people are richer”, said the woman I had met on my flight to Bishkek (KI). “All of the sudden we had to reflect on what we should do to make a living”, said my mountains guide in Almaty (KA).

8042856025_33a66ef779_z(Lenin at the Historical State Museum, Bishkek, KI)

What about their vision of Putin ?
“He did a lot for his country”. This is what I heard everywhere. They have a great admiration for him, and wish they could have such a leader in their own country. A rich country, recognized as a serious power by the entire world.
I was there right in the middle of the crisis with Ukraine but none of them mentioned any fear of being annexed by Russia. In my opinion, may be some of them even wish they would…


What about their democratic transition after independence ?

In Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev became first secretary in 1989 and has ruled Kazakhstan ever since. Kazakhstan’s first multiparty elections, in 1994, returned a parliament favorable to Nazarbaev, He dissolved parliament in 1995 to get more favorable deputies and afterwards won an overwhelming referendum majority to extend his presidential term until 2000. Nazarbaev continues to rule Kazakhstan with an iron hand, but enjoys broad popularity as the country posts 10% economic growth year after year and maintains broad ethnic harmony. He won another seven-year presidential term with over 90% of the vote in the 2005 elections. Nazarbaev’s political rivals and critics are frequently sacked, jailed and even, in two cases in 2005 and 2006, found shot dead.

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Uzbekistan’s first serious noncommunist popular movement, Birlik, was formed by intellectuals in 1989. Despite popular support, it was barred from contesting the election in February 1990 for the Uzbek Supreme Soviet by the Communist Party. The resulting communist-dominated body elected Islam Karimov, the first secretary of the Communist Party, to the new post of executive president.
Following the abortive coup in Moscow in August 1991, Karimov declared Uzbekistan independent and held the first direct presidential elections, which Karimov won with 86% of the vote. His only rival was a poet who got 12% and was soon driven into exile (where he remains to this day). The real opposition groups, Birlik and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), and all other parties with a religious platform, had been forbidden to take part. A new constitution unveiled in 1992 declared Uzbekistan ‘a secular, democratic presidential republic’. The years after independence saw Karimov consolidate his grip on power. Karimov won a third consecutive term in January 2000, garnering 92% of the votes. Foreign observers deemed the election a farce and international condemnation was wide- spread. But the 9/11 attacks on the United States gave Karimov a reprieve. Karimov sought another term in 2007, which he won on a turnout rate that was placed at 90.6%…

Kirghizstan knows alternance, but change comes every time from street insurrections denouncing corruption, nepotism and civil unrest.

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So, I’m gonna check in Israel what’s going on. Next time I’ll report from there, after a one-day stop in Istanbul, this city in between two worlds…