How I Manage A Travel Blog On The Road

As of the moment I write these words, I have been running this blog for over two years. During that time I have made 1,100 posts, have had 4,013 comments, taken over 50,000 photos, have gone through 3 major designs, 2 laptop computers, and logged on from countless wifi networks in over 50 countries. As of today I have 1,870 people who subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter, 47,000 people who follow me on Twitter, and about 25,000 visits to my blog each month with about 54,000 page views.

As far as I know, I have the most popular blog of its kind on the internet (ie: a travelogue made by someone actively traveling). I’m sure someone will read this and bring some site to my attention that I have totally missed, but that is reality as I know it right now.

My goal with this article is to lay everything out on the table for those who are interested in doing what I do, and give everyone a peek under the hood for how things work. I’ll explain all the challenges I have to deal with traveling and the unique problems a blog in this niche has to face. I’ll give potential bloggers some realistic expectations of what to expect if they are going on a trip.

If you are not a technical person, please feel free to just gloss over the parts you don’t understand or ask a question in the comments. I will try to answer all questions, as I’m sure there were be a lot of them.

The Name

I did my first around the world trip in 1999 for work. I kept a blog for the people back in the office before they were known as blogs. When I came up with the idea of going around the world I knew a website would be part of the mix. Prior to leaving there were two websites I found that did something similar that I really admired: Mike Pugh’s Vagabonding.com, and Jim Rogers Millennium Adventure. Since then I’ve discovered many more, but those were the two I used as inspiration. I purposely avoided any play on the word “vagabond” which has become really trite since Mike launched his blog. I can’t tell you how or when I decided on “Everything Everywhere”, but the moment I thought of it, I knew it was the name I was going to use.

Hosting

My website is hosted by Positive Fusion. They have been hosting my personal blog for years so it was natural to just keep using them for my travel site. Indigo, the guy who runs the company, has been very responsive and helpful whenever I have needed assistance.

Everything runs on WordPress, which is pretty much the standard for blogging. My current theme was created special for my site by Unique Blog Designs. I was pretty ticked off at them for how long it took, but I can’t complain about the results. I use Feedburner to manage my RSS feed, Aweber< for my email newsletter and SmugMug to host my travel photos.

Philosophy

I try to make the site very visual. I think travel is a very visual thing. If you look at the cover of any travel magazine, they will always have a photo of some exotic location. Calendars of beaches and mountains sell better than most travel diaries. Having an image rich site has proven to be very popular. To this end, in my most recent site redesign, I’ve moved the daily photos up top so they are the first thing you see, and the daily photo page now displayes 600 pixels wide photos, not 500. You can also click on the image to view a version of the image 1000 pixels wide. (so if you haven’t been doing that, you can see any image in all its real glory)

I also try to keep the subject matter on point. The focus of this site are my travels. I don’t talk about the travel industry, hotels or frequent flier programs because I really don’t care about them. I also don’t give a crap about spas, cruises, luxury hotels or vacation rentals. I don’t talk in general terms about blogging, internet marketing or technology, because that isn’t focus of this site. There are plenty of sites out there that do a much better job of addressing those subjects than I can.

Since November 23, 2007, I have made it a point to post an original photo taken by myself every single day. I have done this 520 consecutive day so far. I have occasionally been late, but I will always go back and make up for it. This way there is always something waiting for you in your RSS reader when you wake up in the morning. I can usually do this by creating a queue of photos a week or two in advance.

Equipment

I will leave my photography equipment to a future post on my camera equipment. Suffice to say I have a Nikon D200 with a 18-200mm and 12-24mm lenses. I also have a small Sanyo Xacti 1000 video camera and a Canon point and shoot camera. I also have a 15″ MacBook Pro, 2 300gb external USB hard drives, a Bluetooth wireless mouse, a power strip, and batter chargers for the camera and video camera. The heaviest thing I carry is a Manfroto tripod and ball head.

That is a lot of technology, but if you want to do what I’m doing, having a laptop isn’t optional. I’ve visited a lot of internet cafes on my trip and I have yet to see Photoshop or any video editing software. Most internet cafe computers are old and slow. There is a good chance they are running IE6 and I’ve even see computers running Windows 98. If you want to do even semi serious photography or video, a small netbook is also not going to cut it. Hauling a larger laptop is just one of the sacrifices you have to make.

I’ve had people ask me if they should take their SLR with them on their trip because they are worried about theft. My answer is, if you aren’t going to take your good camera with you on a trip around the world, there is no point in owning the camera. So far, I have not had anything stolen from me. I keep my laptop secured with a simple cable lock. Take reasonable precautions and you should be fine.

Internet Access

This is probably worth of an article of its own. Getting online is really hit or miss and changes in every city I go to. I’ve had horrible bandwidth and OK bandwidth. Often I will find a hostel with free wifi and a mediocre internet connection and try to upload photos while I sleep. It is slow, but it doesn’t matter if i do it overnight. I can find some sort of internet connection everywhere, but when I find something good I try to take maximum advantage for doing uploads/downloads.

Blogging vs. Writing

I am not a journalist. I am a blogger and I am quite comfortable with that term. That means I am a one man show. Someone working for a magazine has the luxury to go out and write a 5000 word story and not worry about anything else. I’m the writer, photographer, editor, publisher, webmaster, and accounting department. Almost everything I write ends up going public as a first draft. This will often result in some spelling and grammar errors which I’m sure drive some people nuts. If I was writing for print or for a larger website, I’d take more time and do rewrites. Sometimes I might get facts wrong, in which case they are almost always discovered and pointed out by readers in the comments. That is the nature of blogging. If I wasn’t doing photography I could probably spend more time on my writing.

Marketing

This is what most people who are thinking of starting a travel blog and visit my site are interested in. Travelogues are a very odd segment of blogging. There are a ridiculously large number of travelogue floating around on the internet. There are no fewer than two dozen sites which are specifically in the business of hosting travel blogs. I’d estimate that the total number travel blogs out there is in the tens of thousands and that doesn’t include all the people on Facebook who share travel photos with friends and family. There easily might be over 100,000 travelogues.

The problem is they all have a really short shelf life. Eventually the trip is over and the blog gets abandoned. Even while traveling, most people neglect their site updating only once ever few weeks or less. Both of these factors come in to play when you are trying to build an audience. There are two reasons why I have been able to build such a relatively large audience: 1) I’ve been doing to for two years and few people ever travel that long, and 2) I take it very seriously and do not neglect the site. Very few people are prepared to do either of those things, let alone both.

A full 9 months into my trip, hardly anyone was reading this site. Most people who go on around the world trips are done by 9 months. December 2007 was a turning point for the site. I was in Hong Kong when I realized some of the special issues which travel blogs faced and made a concerted effort to try to introduce more people to what I was doing.

In addition to everything else I outlined above, there is one other big problem with travel blogs: no one goes looking for them. I’d bet less than 5% of the people who read my site went out of their way to find blog by someone who was traveling around the world. Most people found it totally by accident through a link on another site, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon or a totally unrelated Google search. So the big challenge is to expose my site to people who have no idea this sort of website even exists, let alone are looking for one.

I do have one big thing working to my advantage. When people do discover my site, I get an overwhelming positive response. There are a lot of people who dream of doing what I’m doing and when they find my site they spend several hours going through it. Almost daily I get emails and tweets from people who gush about the site, applaud me for my courage, and compliment me on my photography. It is pretty nice to get those emails :)

So you can see the enormous problem in marketing a site like this. While there are a lot of travelogues out there in theory, there are very few that have ever gotten any sort of traction. There are no big name travel bloggers out there I can hope will link to my site that will send in a flood of traffic. I am one of the closest things there is to a big name travel blogger, and my site is gets a tenth to one hundredth of the traffic some of the serious blogs get. I have had very few traffic spikes in the two years this site has been around. I have never gotten a massive wave of traffic from Digg or StumbleUpon. Most everything has been the result very slow steady increases in readers.

This issue of serendipity has been the biggest challenge I’ve had to face and will be for the foreseeable future. One of the reasons I’ve put so much effort into Twitter is because it is such an amazing vehicle for people to discover a site like mine. If you are already famous or have a popular blog, you might be able to leapfrog all the issues I’ve had to deal with.

The Future

Believe it or not, my initial goal when I started my trip was to launch a video podcast. Actually, it still is. I quickly found out that producing a video podcast all by myself in lesser developed countries, while at the same time trying to do still photography, was next to impossible. You can see some of my best attempts at video podcasting in the video links in the upper right. At best they are OK, but not really at the quality level I want. I might do some short “talk at the camera” things in the future, but nothing very fancy.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have no intention of doing this alone forever. It is just too much work and it will be impossible do video by myself. I’m looking at making it at least a 2 person operation going forward, with a second person being responsible for producing the podcast. I will also not be traveling for 2 years at a stretch. I’m looking at 3-4 month trips that are more focused and organized.

My long term goal is pretty straight forward: I want to be able to keep doing what I’m doing indefinitely. Despite the time and effort that goes into maintaining the site, I fully enjoy it. It is probably the first thing in my life I wanted to keep doing after a few years. I still have many ideas for how I can improve the site and more projects I’d like to launch. It is just a matter of finding time to do all of this stuff by myself and still……you know……travel.

If there is anything I haven’t addressed, please feel free to ask in the comments.

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

I’ve really picked the most holiday packed time to visit Israel I could have. Today is Yom Hashoa in Israel, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Last night at about 7-8pm most of the businesses shut down. Today at 10am a siren sounded and everyone stopped and stood still for 2 minutes. Even the cars on the street or on a highway stop moving. Most of the Israeli flags are also flying at half mast today.

Between Passover and Yom Hashoa, it seems like the businesses have been closed or not operating at full capacity for most of my time here. I’m still waiting to get notified that my new laptop battery is ready, which is the real reason I’m still in Tel Aviv. I’m thinking of going up to Haifa tomorrow on a day trip to take some photos of the Bahai Terraces and some other sights along the way. Once I’ve done that and got my laptop back in working order, I’ll get my tickets and get ready to leave Israel.

I’ve been productive while I’ve been in Tel Aviv, but I think I’m ready to leave. I have about a one week limit at a place before I start to get antsy and need to move.

The Seven Wonders of Egypt

Great Pyramids at Giza

Great Pyramids and Sphinx
The very fist list of wonders created by Herodotus in the 5th Century BC had the pyramids on the list. In 2,500 years, not much has changed. The Great Pyramids and the Giza Complex are still one of the most impressive sights in the world. The pyramids are from the Upper Kingdom of Egypt and are older than most of the temples you will find in Egypt, which dates after the unification of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. As such, there is little in the way of hieroglyphs and other Egyptian artwork which can be seen at the site. The pyramids were the tombs of In addition to the pyramids themselves, you can also see the funeral boat of Khufu. The biggest downside to visiting the pyramids are the very aggressive men who try to get you to buy camel rides.

Gardens of St. Catherines Monastery

St. Catherine’s Monastery
Egypt isn’t all temples and ruins which date back to the time of the Pharaohs. There is a great deal of history in Egypt from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods as well. The St. Catherine monastery is located in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula. St. Catherine is believed to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, dating its founding to 527 and 565. It was created on orders of the Emperor Justinian at the spot where it is believed Moses saw the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments. The monastery is run by the Greek Orthodox Church and contains about 120 of the oldest Eastern Orthodox icons in the world.

Mohamed Ali Mosque, Cairo.

Islamic Cairo
Despite its location near the pyramids, Cairo was essentially founded as a Muslim city in the 10th Century. Many of the oldest mosques and madrasas in the world can be found in Cairo. The highlight of old Cairo is the Cairo Citadel and the Mohamed Ali Mosque. The mosque is one of the largest of the old Muslim world and the design inside rivals many of the largest cathedrals of Europe. From the Citadel, you can look out to the Giza plateau and see the pyramids on a day where smog is limited. This is the section of town with the souqs (markets) and attractions many of the tourists who visit the city. Old Cairo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Faluccas on the Nile near Aswan.

Nile River
I suppose you could say that the Nile River shouldn’t be considered a Wonder of Egypt because in many respects the Nile IS Egypt. If it wasn’t for the Nile, Egypt wouldn’t exist, neither in its modern or ancient form. Other than the strip of green on either side of the river, most of Egypt is nothing by barren desert. It is the Nile which gave rise to Egyptian culture and made it the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. If you are in Egypt you need to at least take a felucca trip on the river, and if possible take an overnight cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Taking a cruise will not only let you see how average Egyptian farmers work the land, but it will also give you a chance to see some temples you would not get to see in Luxor or Aswan: Edfu and Komombo Temples.

Roman Theater, Alexandria.

Alexandria
Alexandria is a city with an amazing amount of history. It was founded by Alexander the Great. It was where Julius Caesar came ashore in search of Pompey in the Roman Civil War. It was here the great Library of Alexandria was created and later destroyed. It was home to one of the original seven wonders of the world: the Pharos Lighthouse. Anthony and Cleopatra killed themselves here. Despite all this history, almost all of the great structures have been destroyed. There are many smaller structures still to be found in Alexandria, however: Pompey’s Pillar, the Roman Theater, and the Greco-Roman museum. One of the highlights is nine meters below the surface where you can dive and see the ruins of the Pharos Lighthouse. It is also home to the new Biblioteca Alexandria, which hearkens back to the old library.

The head of Ramesses II. Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel consists of two temples created by Ramesses II (aka the Pharoah played by Yul Brenner in the Ten Commandments) to celebrate a victory over the Nubians who lived south of Egypt on the Nile in what is now Sudan. By its own right, Abu Simbel is an impressive place to visit. What makes it really impressive, and the thing that really makes it a Wonder of Egypt is that the entire complex was moved in the 60’s to preserve it from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam. The entire temple and sculptures carved into the mountain were carved up and moved 60m up and 200m back from the former location of the river. They did such a good job that if it wasn’t for the pile of dirt covering the temples, you’d almost never know that everything had been moved. If you ever visit, pay close attention to the graffiti carved into the stone by British vandals in the 19th Century.

Pillars at Karnak Temple

Karnak and Luxor
Karnak and Luxor are technically separate temples connected by a road known as the Avenue of the Sphinxes, but because they are  close together I’ve decided to list them as a single entry. Luxor and Karnak are both in the middle of urban Luxor City. Luxor Temple is of similar design to other Egyptian temples like Eduf and is best known for its intact obelisk at the front of the temple. Karnak is by far the largest temple in Egypt. It has almost an acre of stone pillars which gives you an idea of just how massive the original temple must have been. You can walk from one temple to the other, but it is probably easier to hire a horse drawn carriage. Don’t worry, the carriage drivers will find you. Collectively these ruins are in the Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt | Seven Wonders of Spain

Tel Aviv

I’ve been in Tel Aviv for two days now. It is a very different city than Jerusalem. For starters, I haven’t seen a single Orthodox Jew here. Zero. Everything here is much more laid back and secular than Jerusalem. In addition to a very large beach area, it also seems very artsy. Some of the neighborhoods remind me of San Francisco or Portland.

My laptop situation is looking much better. The issue was with my power brick. I didn’t think it was something that could break that easily considering there are no moving parts, but I was wrong. They also ran a diagnostic on my battery when I told them I could only get 2 hours of life out of it. I’m getting both replaced but I have to jump through some hoops by calling Apple, getting a case number than I can give the Apple Store here. As of now I have my laptop and a working power brick, but no battery. That means I have to be very careful about unplugging my laptop.

I’ll be here a bit longer than I had hoped because of the delays with the Apple Store and everything being closed for Passover. That will give me a chance to catch up on some photos I haven’t been able to work on in the last week.

Tel Aviv is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is supposed to be for its urban architecture. The problem is, I have no idea what exactly is so special about it. Tel Aviv is known as the “White City” but I’m not sure what I should try to take a photo of to capture it. It has replaced the Sydney Opera House as the lamest World Heritage Site I’ve visited on my trip. If anyone who has been to Tel Aviv has suggestions for a good representative Bauhaus building, let me know.

I’m going to use Tel Aviv as a base to do some day trips north to Haifa/Acre and to Nazareth. It seems cheaper and easier than the hassle of cabs and buses and moving all my stuff.

I was also mentioned in an article on MSNBC.com by Christopher Elliott. Please check it out.

Easter in Jerusalem

I got up Easter morning to the sound of bagpipes (yes bagpipes) and headed off to the Church of the Holy Seplechure. While it is Easter for Western Christians, it is Palm Sunday for the Orthodox Churches, and it is the anniversary of the fight fight breaking out between the Greeks and Armenians last year. After witnessing the spectacle which was this morning, fist fights do not surprise me in the slightest.

The thing to know about the church is that it is jointly administered by the Latin Patriarch, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch with minor involvement by the Ethiopian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptics, and Syrian Orthodox. It is run under a very screwed up system set in place back in 1852 called the Status Quo, which was basically….. the status quo in 1852. Parts of the church are under different responsibilities of different churches and any area in common has to be changed with the agreement of everyone…which means nothing every changes.

The center point of the church is the spot where it believed Jesus was entombed and rose from the dead. Inside the dome of the church is a smaller building about the size of a garage.

The Easter mass was being said by the Latin Patriarch (aka Catholic Bishop) in the front of the Seplechure structure while at the same time the Coptics were having the Palm Sunday service at the rear chapel. They are about 15m away from each other. There are also a lot more Catholics than there are Coptics.

Unlike most churches, there are no pews, no open space for people to gather, no sound system to hear what is going on, and no sort of permanent structures at all for the mass to take place. Everything is quickly dismantled before and after the service.

The Latin service and the Coptic service began at about the same time. The Coptics would chant and drown out the Latins and the Latin organ would start up and drown out the Coptics, and then the Greeks would fire up the church bells and drown out everyone. It was like a battle of the bands, except all the band were playing at the same time. I could just see the Greek Orthodox Patriarch giving an itnervew explaining how they have special church bells which can go all the way up to 11.

While everything was going on, they had ushers begin to take down all the chairs which were being used by the priests. Because of the arrangement, everything the Latin Patriarch uses for mass has to be set up and taken down every day. The Coptics had a procession right through the Catholic crowd and then the Catholics had a procession right through the Coptic crowd.

I found the Church of the Holy Seplechure to be so facinating that I am considering writing a book on it. There are so many things unique about it and that seperate it from any other church in the world, it deserves a more indepth treatment. The ladder I spoke of in my previous post is a great metaphore for all the problems the church faces: it hasn’t moved in over 150 years because no one can agree on anything.

Later in the day I saw a group of Arab Scouts playing bagpipes wearing Scottish Tartans. I had seen so many things in Jerusalem, but this one just took the cake. I bust out laughing when I saw this. I have no idea why they have a bagpipe band, but it was just another one of those things you will only find in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: Good Friday Edition

I got up early to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to view/photo the events going on for Good Friday. The crowd which was there for the morning service wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. No bigger than what you would see on a Sunday at any large church in the US. The doors were locked until 8am and there was a real diverse mix of people outside waiting. A group of Ethiopian Christians, a group of what I think were American Protestants in what looked like choir robes, about seven different orders of nuns, a ton of Franciscan priests, pilgrims from all over, and a bunch of Israeli cops and members of the media.

The doors were opened by the two Arab men I mentioned in a previous post. The doors of the church were closed after everyone entered for 2.5 hours. Both the place where Jesus died and where he was buried are within the church,. The spot where he was believed to have died it up a flight of stairs and is a pretty small area. The main floor space of the church is dedicated to the tomb.

I didn’t stick around for the 2.5 hours. I went and got breakfast and got a good spot to take photos for the Via Dolorosa.

What a madhouse that was.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Via Dolorosa is the street that follows (sort of) the route Jesus is believed to have walked from being sentenced to death to crucifixion. Following the route (also called the Stations of the Cross) is a tradition developed by Catholic pilgrims in the Middle Ages when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem. If you saw the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ”, the whole movie basically takes place on the Via Dolorosa.

The first station of the cross takes place in the courtyard of what is currently a Muslim school. It was formerly the location of the palace of the Roman governor (which at the time would have been Pontius Pilate). The fact that the stations of the cross are usually performed on a Friday, and the school is not in session on Friday, works out well for everyone.

The Via Dolorosa is the reason why many pilgrims come to Jerusalem. The route is not exact. The streets do not line up with streets from 2,000 years ago. Some places are only a guess as there is evidence of anything, only legends and traditions. In fact, there is no real way to know if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is on the spot where Jesus died. There really isn’t any better location, and there isn’t any reason to think it didn’t happen there.

As people began to gather in the courtyard, there was a large group of Boy/Girl Scouts which showed up. I thought it was odd. It would cost a lot to fly scouts to Jerusalem. I also noticed a lot of people with hymnals in Arabic. Also odd. Eventually a large group came in carrying a huge cross and I didn’t know what language they were speaking. I eventually realized that half of the people who were there, and all of the scouts, were Arab Christians. Even though most Palestinians are Muslim, there are a sizable number of Christians, and they were representing in full force. Christian hymns sung in Arabic sound totally different than the Muslim calls to prayer you hear sung in Arabic.

Trying to cram all those people down the streets took forever. I sort of assumed that they would stop, pray, stop, pray, until they got to the church. I ended up at the back of the line and didn’t really get to see anything in the procession once it left the school. It just seemed like a big march of people from the back end.

There were a lot of video cameras from news outlets from all over the world. Of what I could identify, there were crews from Poland, South Korea, somewhere in Latin American (at least one), and the US. There were maybe a dozen I couldn’t identify.

Because there were so many people, I didn’t even make it to the church. I would up around Russian Orthodox Chapel where they found the segment of the old wall, not too far from the church.

It was the first time I tried to photograph a large event. Lesson: you can’t really photograph everything. Your best hope is to stakeout a spot somewhere on the route and take photos there.

I understand why people come to Jerusalem during Holy Week on pilgrimage, but honestly, it isn’t really built to handle a lot of people. Not the Christian Quarter at least. I think you’d have a better experience if you came at another time.

I’m considering heading to Tel Aviv tomorrow because Easter is going to probably be even worse. I was going to go north and then to Tel Aviv, but my computer problems have changed the schedule. I’ve stayed in Jerusalem longer than I had originally planned because of Holy Week, so I’m going to pick up the pace through the rest of Israel.

Free eBook: 25 Favorite Travel Photos

Subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter to get your copy
Subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter to get your copy

I’ve finally launched my new ebook “25 Favorite Travel Photo”. These are 25 of my favorite photos taken during the last two years of my travels. Each photo is in a larger format than you might normally see on my blog with additional commentary about how and why I took the photo.

This is available for free to subscribers of my email newsletter or my RSS feed. Getting your copy is easy:

1) Subscribe in your RSS reader and you’ll get every photo and blog post sent directly to you. All you have to do is look at the bottom of the post to get the link for your free copy. If you are already an RSS subscriber, just look at the bottom of this post in your RSS reader.

2) Fill out the two boxes in the upper right of the website to subscribe to my email newsletter. You will get a link to download the book as soon as you confirm your subscription. About every two weeks I’ll be sending out an update of my adventures with content that doesn’t appear on the website. The first issue will be sent in the next 24 hours. If you have already subscribed, you’ll be getting your download in the first issue.

Everyone who subscribes will instantly be eligible for all future photo collections I make available online.

I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did making it!

Win Free Stuff Jerusalem Edition: Hebrew Coca-Cola T-Shirt

The winner of the keffiyeh was Tom from Arizona. I’ll be shipping it out shortly. I’ve had a delay in getting Sherry her necklace because Malaysia doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. I’ll send that when I get to Malta.

Win this shirt and please note the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background.
Win this shirt and please note the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background.

I had a difficult time thinking what to pick for a prize from Jerusalem. There are all sorts of religious artifacts you can get from shops here, but no matter what you pick you end up leaving a bunch of people out. Someone suggested salt from the Dead Sea, but it is really too heavy (salt is a mineral you know). I decided to go for kitsch, which is a Yiddish word and sort of applies. I got a large size t-shirt with Coca-Cola written in Hebrew.

All you have to do to win is leave a comment telling me your favorite Jewish comedian.

Jerusalem Syndrome

There really is something called Jerusalem Syndrome. Wikipedia describes it as a:

…mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds.

I can totally understand why some people can go nuts here. This is ground zero for monotheism. If Jerusalem had an NBA team, I’d call them the Monotheists, and I’d have three season ticket packages: the cross package, the Star of David package, and the crescent package.

I am not sure where to begin talking about the Old City of Jerusalem, so I’ve collected some random thoughts:

  • Jerusalem is small. You can walk from wall to wall in maybe 20 minutes if you don’t get stuck in a tourist group or hassled by a shop vendor. As a result, all of the stuff mentioned in the Bible takes place within a really small area. The Tomb of King David is very close to the room of the Last Supper and across a walking path from the Church of the Dormition. I was walking around looking in shops when I accidentally found myself on the Via Dolorosa. The entire lenght of the Via Dolorsa can be walked faster than most churches take to do the stations of the cross.
  • Jerusalem has been conquered over 40 times. Pretty much nothing from the time of Christ exists in the city today. I think there only a few steps and the Western Wall which exists. As a result, there has been tons of building over things, reorienting religious buildings for other faiths, and very unique inter-faith arrangements that could only exist here. The keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site in Christendom, is held by two Muslim families. They open and close the door each day as a compromise to the various Christian sects doing it. The Tomb of King David shrine was built by the Crusaders, expanded and decorated by Persian Muslims, and is now a synagogue. The room of the Last Supper has stained glass windows with Arabic writing from the Koran. The Temple Mount itself was the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, was then the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter after the Second Temple’s destruction, then a mosque was built by the Arabs, then it was converted to a church by the Crusaders, was converted back to a mosque and now orthodox Jews are licking their chops at the idea of building a third temple. These type of things can be found all over Jerusalem.
  • There isn’t a whole lot of Wailing at the Wailing Wall. In fact, I found it pretty festive. Lots of families take their sons there to get their Bar Mitzvah. Every few minutes you can see a small group of men and a boy walking with a copy of the Torah to a table to read. If you climbed the wall (yeah), you’d literally be in the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock. There is a ramp which will take you from the Western Wall area to the Dome. There is a sign warning jews that according to Torah Law, they cannot go onto the Temple Mount. As they don’t know for 100% certainty where the temple was located, the whole area is considered off limits.
  • Prior to 1967, going from the Western Wall to the Dome was crossing the border from Israel to Jordan. There are still signs that say “Border Police”. Crossing that line from the Western Wall to the Dome area is the single most abrupt and striking cultural change which I think exists in the world. Certainly the most abrupt which I’ve ever seen. The area around the Dome is really the only open space is all of the Old City. It is the closest thing to a park you can find. The Dome is the oldest mosque in the world and many think it covers the location of the Holiest of Hollies from the first and second temple. I wasn’t able to go inside and I have no idea if it is possible for non-Muslims to enter.
  • Being the most significant spot in Christendom, you’d think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have a big plaza and be really flashy. In reality there is a tiny courtyard and to get there you have to pass through a small gate lined with merchants selling cheap souvenirs. There is a ladder up against a window which has been there for 150 years. Disagreements between the various sects which control the church have rendered it unmovable. Much of the church hasn’t been cleaned or repaired in over 200 years because of disagreements on how to do it. If you go there, read up on what is inside the church before you go, because nothing is marked and there are no signs.

I’m looking forward to see how Passover and Good Friday are run. Watching the people is really most of the fun.