My trip to Israel was timed to coincide with two of my four cousins’ return to the country for Passover. The eldest cousin, Nir, has lived in L.A. for seventeen or eighteen years (we overlapped during his first / my last year in the city, the only time I ever lived remotely close to any of the four). The youngest, Rachel, moved to Norway with her partner and two young children about a year ago.
Irit, the cousin who is closest in age to me, picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks before Passover. We took the train to Zichron Ya’akov, the beautiful town near Haifa where she lives with her husband and two kids. I had never met her kids — my first cousins once removed — in person, even though they are already a teenager and a tween, respectively. It was really nice to finally spend time with them. I got ice cream in the old town with Ella and I watched Almog play video games and learn to drive.
So… At the end of my last post, about my trip to Jordan, I wrote that I had to wrap things up quickly in order to “head off on my next adventure.” As I typed those words — while running fifteen minutes late to get out the door for the airport — my superstitious self thought twice. If I let those words hang in the digital air, would they jinx my first trip to Israel in fourteen years and somehow turn my coming adventure into a misadventure? Would they magically conspire to make me miss my plane, or get stuck in the country because of my passport issues (which reached new heights of ridiculousness this year), or prevent me from entering the country in the first place?
Turns out my paranoia was entirely misdirected. None of those things happened — though the hijinks of getting in and out of the country with an expired Israeli passport (during an interior ministry strike right before a major national holiday) were next level. What did happen was that I had to go to the E.R. in Haifa, I spent four days in the hospital there, and I had a semi-emergency operation, smack in the middle of my trip. It was not fun. But it was both mind and heart-expanding. Uncannily enough, my last night in Israel was the first night of Passover, and attending my family’s seder felt like a celebration not only of the ancient Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt but also of my own liberation from a health crisis that had been holding me hostage.
I’ve been sitting on pictures of my trip to Jordan in October for months, because between the Omicron surge and the invasion of Ukraine, it felt obnoxious and tone deaf to post about a fun escape abroad. It still feels that way, to be honest, but a little less so in light of the fact that there’s no end in sight to either the pandemic or Putin’s inhumanity.
The reason I went on the trip in the first place was because of its good timing: I was in-between jobs, the pandemic seemed to be in-between surges, and my New York-based friend was in the middle of a short-term consultancy in Amman. I had hoped to go to Jordan and Israel in the same trip, ever since I found out that there is a daily 30-minute flight from Amman to Tel Aviv as well as a couple of easy land crossings. But COVID restrictions and passport difficulties made it impossible, unfortunately.
So, here are some highlights of Jordan, a truly breathtaking country.
It feels a little anticlimactic to follow Italy with Indiana, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. In July, I spent a week in central Pennsylvania sharing a cabin with high school friends and assorted kids. At the end of the week, they headed home, and I got in my dad’s car and drove in the opposite direction. I made my way back to NYC the (very) long way around, by way of Cleveland, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Louisville, Lexington, Charleston, Morgantown, Hagerstown, Gettysburg, and Philadelphia. In doing so, I satisfied an itch to move that had not been scratched in a year and a half, I resolved a few “gray” states into black and white, and I also got back on track with my relatively newfound pursuit to visit both as many states and as many countries / territories as my numerical age. The pandemic had screwed up my state count (I turned 41 having visited only 40 states), but after driving through three new ones in as many days — Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky — I am now safely back in the black: 43 states on the cusp of age 42.
We have at long last reached the final installment of my Austrian-Slovenian-Italian adventure. These are the tiny towns I stopped in for an hour or two each on my way to and from Santa Maddalena. All three of them were quite stunning:
It’s ridiculous that it has taken me a year and a half to post these pictures, but then again, consider the year and a half it’s been. Or better yet, time travel back with me to simpler days, and consider the pre-pandemic bliss of a snowy stay in the Dolomites…
It’s been so long since I was in Venice — almost a year and a half — that I had to jog my memory by reading the notes I jotted down on my phone at the time. They start with, “Venice = mission-driven with not enough time for the mission.” On second thought, that could describe my whole life. Here are some pictures.
From Lake Bled I took a short train trip to the capital city of Ljubljana, where I had less than 24 hours to spend before my departure for Venice. The historic part of the city is small and the only thing I wanted to do apart from wander around was to visit the castle. So, although I would have liked a little more time, I was able to fit in everything that I really wanted to see. Here are some pix.
My Central European tour continues! (And by that I mean that I now resume the year-late summation of my Central European tour last January.)
From Salzburg, I took a train southeast to Lake Bled. The second I crossed the border, I could tell I was in a new country because the architecture changed abruptly. The food did, too, but I wouldn’t know that until I sat down at a homestyle restaurant by the train station, where I heard my first of many Phil Collins hits.
I realized today that it’s been more than a year since I visited Salzburg last January, so I better get my act together and post pictures now if I’m ever going to. I think I put off Innsbruck and Salzburg for so long because they were just so fraught. How do I properly explain what I experienced while there? I was constantly in almost painful awe of the city’s beauty, and I was overjoyed just to roam the wintry streets, sit in the cozy cafes, and gawk at the baroque opulence. But I also kept getting caught up in angry rumination about how Austria could stand to face a little more of its ugly past. And then I’d get whiplashed by doubts and start obsessively googling for evidence both to justify and to counter my resentment. The whole thing was mentally exhausting.
But that’s just me. As I said in my Innsbruck post, if you don’t have relatives who died in the Holocaust, you should definitely visit Austria. It’s gorgeous! Let me show you…