It’s not as shady as it looks: How I found an apartment in Auckland

When I searched for apartments in Chicago, I could afford to be picky. I knew which neighborhoods were decent and which I’d probably shot upon entering. I knew the Red and Blue Lines ran 24 hours and the 8 bus was always late because of the crappy traffic on Halsted. I knew I wanted hardwood floors, an east-facing window, a balcony, and preferably a chandelier. A fireplace and granite countertops wouldn’t have hurt, either.

When I moved to Auckland, I knew nothing. I had no idea where anything was and navigated based on where the Skytower was on the horizon. I didn’t know which neighborhoods were decent, which buses ran 24 hours, or how any modern city could possibly function without a subway. I had no idea every apartment is carpeted, uninsulated, and chronically damp. I was oblivious to the fact my towel would never again be completely dry. Continue reading

The spectacular views from Wadi Rum

I’ve already admitted my longtime dream of residing in a desert won’t be happening anytime soon, now that I’ve actually been to one. And while I don’t necessarily want a home where the Bedouin roam, I didn’t mind spending the evening in Wadi Rum, Jordan’s most well-known desert. It translates to Valley of the Moon, and luckily enough for me, the beautifully named location also has some beautiful views that took my mind off my shivering.

I had a traditional Bedouin tea – perfect since tea time is one of my favorite activities – and got to spend some time taking in the scenery as the sun started to fall. And apparently there’s nothing like sitting in the desert watching the sky change colors over mountains and rock formations to make you feel very small and insignificant. Continue reading

How to prep for Petra

Petra is Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction (which probably isn’t saying much considering when I told people I was going to Jordan and they had no idea it was even a country) and for good reason. Whether you’re a history nerd like me or just really like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you’ve either seen or heard of Petra.

Petra was build around 300 BC, and considering much of it is not only still standing, but in impeccable condition, it’s rather awe-inducing. It’s the kind of place where you kind of wander around with your mouth open, staring up and getting a cramp in your neck because some of the structures are just so massive. Continue reading

The seas of Israel

One of the reasons Israel has historically been such a coveted land is its location and access to multiple bodies of water – it was a prime place to hold if your empire had any interest in trade and controlling major regional ports.

It wasn’t my intention to visit all the major seas in Israel, but now that I look back and realize I missed only one – the Sea of Galilee – I’m really disappointed I didn’t have the time to get there. I did, however, make it to the Mediterranean, Red, and Dead Seas, so it’s not like the trip was a sea-less bust. Not that this would even matter, considering how wary of beaches I can be to begin with. Here are my favorite moments from each:  Continue reading

There’s not a lot to like about Eilat

I went to Eilat for one reason and one reason only: It’s the sole place American tourists can cross the border into neighboring Jordan without getting a visa in advance. Because I wasn’t 100 percent sure I’d make it to Jordan at all, I didn’t secure the necessary documentation in time, and thus, had to trek down to southern Israel to cross the border there.

I would never go back to Eilat and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else go either. Aside from the completely predictable fact that I was carsick for the entire four-hour bus ride, it was completely uninteresting, really tacky, and I was so glad I was only spending one night there. Continue reading

What it’s really like to travel in the West Bank

Say the words “West Bank” and people instantly conjure images of bombed buildings, terror groups, and nonstop violence. If you tell them you’re a girl headed to the West Bank alone, they panic.

If I had a dollar for every time someone gasped or looked at me like I was crazy when I told them that’s where I was going, I’d be able to buy a first-class ticket home from New Zealand. Sure, Israeli security forces may have had a shootout with two suspected terrorists in Bethlehem the day I was hiking Masada, but it really wasn’t anything that worried me too much. Continue reading

The hike that almost killed me: My climb up Masada

Ancient legend tells us the fortress of Masada, located at the top of a plateau in the Judean desert, was held under siege by the Romans sometime in the first century. To avoid capture and potential slavery, the Jewish people residing on the mountaintop killed each other and committed suicide once it was apparent their fortress had been conquered. The Romans entered to find hundreds of dead bodies and a half-burned community.

My Masada climb was just as dramatic as this story.

Let me begin by confirming that I am not an outdoorsy type of person (though now that I’ve moved to New Zealand, I’m certainly trying to be!). I used to scoff at long nature hikes and the potential for sunburn and bug bites, opting instead for activities like leisurely bike rides, yoga in the park or ice cream eating sessions with friends. So I don’t know exactly what made me think a sunrise hike up a mountain – on a trail called the Snake Path, no less – would be a great idea. The phrase “once in a lifetime opportunity” must have momentarily clouded my judgement.  Continue reading

The view from Old Jerusalem

Old Jerusalem has to be, without a doubt, one of the most interesting places I have ever visited. One of the main reasons? It’s really, really old – and I am quite the history nerd, after all. It never ceases to surprise me that I am a 20-something woman, when I have the mindset and manner of a grouchy, 80-year-old college history professor with a wild tuft of white hair and Coke-bottle glasses.

Coming from Chicago, which was almost completely rebuilt fairly recently, I have long been obsessed with old cities. Aside from having more character and stories than newer cities, they’re just nicer to look at. I’d rather stroll the streets of London or Madrid than Chicago’s “scenic” north side any day (strolling the south side isn’t even an option, as I have no desire to be hit with a stray bullet). Old Jerusalem is no exception to my vast generalization that older cities are better: In addition to its beautiful sites, it has the added bonus of offering cheap Middle Eastern food on every corner – and I certainly can’t resist falafel or anything with feta cheese. Continue reading

The nonbeliever’s guide to Jerusalem

I received no religious instruction as a child, teen, or young adult. I’m embarrassingly uninformed about every monotheistic belief system. The few times I’ve attended a Catholic church with my family, I’ve either dozed off or started laughing uncontrollably, horrifying my mother. And I’ve only recently learned it’s not acceptable to bring hot chocolate and a pumpkin muffin into a mass, no matter how hungry you are.

I have a lot of questions about religion. I still don’t quite understand the significance of eating that cracker in Catholic churches or why some people have ashes on their heads one day a year. Just a few days ago I asked my friend, “Who exactly is Noah?” (And yes, the question was prompted by a movie poster, not a religious awakening.) Continue reading