Koh Phangan, Thailand

You may be wondering by now why my blog posts have been so prolific over the past few days?… No need to guess, I will spare you the suspense!! After a fabulous 2 weeks on the beautiful beaches of Haad Tien and Haad Yuan on Koh Phangan (an island in the south of Thailand), Boaz contracted dengue fever from a pesky mosquito. Such bad luck! He has been in hospital for the past few nights and so I have had lots of time on my hands by his bedside to catch up on the blog. Don’t worry, he is ok and hopefully he will be well enough for us to get on our flight home in a few days time! A massive thanks to Tali P, the third amigo on our Thailand leg, who has been an amazing support to both of us over the past week.

So, back to the first two weeks on Koh Phangan… such an amazingly perfect place to be for the last few weeks of our trip. We arrived intending to do a detox (ie. a fast and cleanse), then after a few days of eating raw foods to prepare for the detox, we decided we just wanted a relaxing holiday, so ditched the detox and did not look back! We filled our days with daily morning yoga, eating delicious healthy food (mostly at the Sanctuary), meditation, lots of beach time, lots of massages, beach volleyball, a hike to a stunning viewpoint and Muay Thai kickboxing (Nats you would be so proud!!).

After all the travelling we have done it was so nice to kick back in a beautiful spot and stay put for a little while. We cant wait to come home and are feeling excited to get back into the swing of things in Melbourne. See you all very soon!!!

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Berlin

Berlin is an amazing city and we loved our time here learning and exploring. The city is an open air history museum, being the epicentre of so much of recent history and at the same time it lives in the modern world, where we felt at home in the coffee culture that reminded us a lot of Melbourne. It is a city to be lived in which reveals itself slowly. Our time here was all the more special being joined by the lovely Tali P.

In just a few days we witnessed the rise and fall of the Nazis, the Holocaust, WWII and in the aftermath, the battle between communism and capitalism which resulted in the building of a wall. As we all know communism lost, but it really is unbelievable that the wall dividing east and west berlin only came down 23 years ago. We explored the sections of the Berlin wall that remain. Part of the wall is a museum and monument to those who tried to escape (and mostly failed). Another part of the wall is covered with graffiti expressing compassion for the past and hope for the future.

One of the highlights of our visit was the Fat Tyre Bike Tour of Berlin which took us to most of the main sites all in one day. Our guide was fantastic, explaining the history and relevance of the places we passed. The bikes were oh-so-comfortable and it was great to be riding hair flying in the wind.

A communications tower built in East Berlin essentially to make the West Berliners jealous of East Berlin’s technological prowess (and then it came out years later that they had to import technicians from outside the country to finish it!!)…

The monuments to the holocaust in Berlin are so creative, unique and relevant. The holocaust memorial was powerful. It is amazing how creating a space can evoke emotion and memory. There is no one meaning for the structure, the artist left it up to the public to interpret as they will. However it was based on the Jewish cemetery in Prague (which I am yet to visit!) and it certainly feels like one walking through.

The memorial to the burning of books is an underground empty library, big enough to hold the number of books burned. It is viewed through a large glass tile on the pavement, in the exact position where the burning occurred. Powerful.

And then from large to small… all around Berlin, outside apartment buildings there are small gold tiles with the names of the Jewish person who resided there, the date that they were taken and where they went. A constant reminder of what happened here. Really an amazing owning and taking of responsibility for the actions of the past. I was also drawn to think about Australia’s commemoration of its’ Aboriginal past – and how to have a more present memory of those events.

Also amazing to be in Berlin because of my personal connection, my grandmother was born here. We happened past a Jewish girls school where she studied to find a religious jewish man running a kosher Shabbat each week to educate locals about Jewish traditions.

We also loved the eclectic, artistic side of Berlin, and spent hours walking around town, rummaging through flea markets, feasting on cake and coffee.

One of our favourite outings was to the open-air Bearpit karaoke in Mauerpark, where in front of an amphitheatre of 1000s of people you can volunteer to belt out a tune. So-you-think-you-can-sing eat your heart out… and a gigantic gold star to those brave souls who sang for us that day!!

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Europa Europa

The next 2 weeks we spent gallivanting around Europe. In transit we squeezed in a short visit to Athens and to my delight we ate a Greek salad in Greece in the shadow of the Pantheon… it certainly lived up to its reputation – best greek salad I have ever had!

We also managed to pop into Zurich for a few hours and wandered around the picturesque riverside.

In London we had a great time visiting our friends around town. I managed to fit in a few visits to my favourite chef’ Ottolenghi’s cafe, which didn’t disappoint (as you might have guessed by this point after following our blogs, we are all about amazing food!). London was gearing up for the Olympics and all around town there were flags flying all the way down Oxford st.

A fabulous bookshop we found floating in the canals in the East End…

On our short stop in Paris we got to hang out with the lovely Jo P who joined us as we explored the Marais and enjoyed a lovely lunch sitting outside a quaint cafe while we people watched.

We loved wandering the streets where almost every corner shop was a pattisserie, finally we just couldn’t resist!!

After lunch, Boaz was feeling inspired to try his hand at being a Parisian… very dashing!

Of course we couldn’t miss out on the usual suspects…

We even managed to make it to one of my favourite bookshops of all time, Shakespeare and Co, where there is a piano for visitors to play and beds amongst the floor to ceiling bookshelves where some of the staff sleep. Funnily enough, it was much smaller than I remembered when I visited 15 years ago!

Next stop on the Europa Europa whirlwind tour…Berlin!!

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Israel

Israel was all about family and friends. Between Boaz’s 8 uncles and aunts and my uncle and extended family, ‘travelling’ took the backseat as we drove around the country feasting on the hospitality of our nearest and dearest. (Sorry to all those family members who didn’t make the blog, the photographer had too much sun and didn’t take enough photos!!)

My very talented cousin, Moran, is on the right!

Most of our time was spent in Tel Aviv, enjoying the beach, cafes, bars, music, markets and the amazing food. Making sure to visit our trusted favourite cafes as well as discovering delicious new ones. The city was alive, gearing up for summer and around every corner there was a piano set up so that anyone who passed by could sit down and play. LOVE the impromptu performances by some very talented performers… only in Tel Aviv in summer where it is guaranteed not to rain for at least 4 months!!

We did manage to have some adventures around the country… Continuing the family roots theme that began in Morocco, we joined Ann and Yehudah in Jerusalem where Yehudah showed us some of the places where he grew up (including Mea Shearim – see the sign below!) and where he served during the 1967 war. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Machane Yehudah (the food market) to sample some of the mouth-watering treats!

We spent a beautiful night in a lush hotel in Rosh Pina (thanks aunty Suzie-Sara!)  that had an amazing vegetarian buffet and in the lobby, a wide range of fresh herbs grown on the property to make tea with anytime.

One of the highlights of our time in Israel was seeing one of my favourite Israeli musicians, Idan Reichel, perform at a huge outdoor amphitheatre set at the base of Massada. He hadn’t performed in Israel in a while, the audience were all belting out the words to his emotionally provocative songs. The atmosphere was electric. It was a very special night.

Heading even further down south into the desert, we spent a night at Kibbutz Sde Boker to visit some old friends (can’t believe it has been 15 years!!). I love going back there, a place where there is just soo much open space. Time slows down, the big sky opens up and the landscape stretches out for kilometers all around in the surrounding desert.

It is almost impossible to be in Israel and not be consumed by the politics that permeate the country. Following the tent protests last summer which were mainly about the cost of living (housing prices) and also social justice issues, we joined the first of this summer’s protests that continued on that theme. It is always heartwarming to see first hand that there are people who care deeply about human rights issues and are doing something about it, especially because as much as I love visiting Israel, I also feel conflicted due to the terrible injustices that also happen here. What I do strongly believe is that the vast majority of people want to live a peaceful life where they can go to work, send their kids to school and enjoy their family and friends. I hope that in this unique part of the world that will be the reality here too one day for everyone.

Some of the fun, gruesome and quirky graffiti around town…

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Barcelona

What is the thing that you would most like to do after getting off a 20 hour flight???* Go to a traditional hamam and have a soak and massage, then a delicious dinner of course! And that is exactly what we did, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of our good friends Ricard and Betty who treated us as to a belated wedding present in Barcelona. It was such a relaxing and special experience, one we wont forget for a long time!

It was so great to feel at home with familiar faces after our 3 month stint in South America. Betty and Ricard did a great job of showing us Barcelona including heading out night we headed out to the Spanish version of the Royal Easter/Melbourne Show complete with flamenco costumes, all types of paella and delicious churros. A real treat.

We also enjoyed exploring the amazing architecture of Barcelona, Gaudi’s Park Guell was a hit, so were the delicious markets in El Raval.

But of course, our favourite meal was at our favourite cafe – Cafe de les Antipodes in Badelona where the special of the day was “La Paella d’en Boaz”. Delicious!!!

* We flew from Rio de Janeiro to Barcelona, then took a side trip to Morocco – just to clear up any confusion. Barcelona was before and after Morocco!

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Essouaira

Even though it was clearly run-down and neglected, there was something magical about the sea-side fishing town of Essouaira. Looking past the rubble and odor caused by renovations to the sewage system, I could imagine that the old part of town was once a fortress to be reckoned with.

Our lovely traditional Riad was indeed a much needed respite from the busy medina. I took a photo from the top of the stairs looking down into the courtyard.

We wandered through the Mellah (common name for the Jewish Quarter of the Medina) and found the synagogue, well rather the sign indicating the place where it was supposed to be… there was no one around and the building was severely neglected… and so we moved on.

I especially liked the port. Notwithstanding the overpowering fishy odor, there were seagulls swarming overhead and local fishermen were fixing their nets, tending to their boats and selling their daily haul.

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Marrakesh

“You’re making couscous in my brain” said the carpet seller to Boaz in the middle of a heated 20 minute discussion about whether the carpet Boaz wanted to buy was handmade or not! Bargaining is the name of game in  Morocco and especially in the more touristy city of Marrakesh. Thankfully we had a wildcard up our sleeve… Yehuda, whose command of Moroccan Arabic and understanding of how the discussion goes, has helped us get some great deals! Thanks Yehuda!

Our stay in Marrakesh centered around Jemaa El-Fnaa, the main square in the centre of the Medina. By day you feel the hustle and bustle of a city, people rushing around, buying and selling. By night, the square comes alive with drumming musicians, agile acrobats and a wide range of food stalls. Together with the haunting call to prayer in the evening, it is altogether an enchanting place.

Boaz was a brave soul and braved the snails…mmm…delicious!!

We also explored the remnants of Jewish communities here, visiting the local synagogue which is well-kept and is still operating today.

Wandering around the medina we happened across a communal bakery. Community living is entrenched in the way of life here and it these bakeries gave us a glimps into how it works in practice. In the morning the dough is prepared at home, then brought to the communal bakery to be cooked.

A gorgeous private courtyard… this is how the rich and famous used to (and still do!) live…

Lastly,  we enjoyed local entertainment at a local restaurant, about as touristy as you can get and such a fun night!

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