My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19}

My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19} | Thursday 28th July 2016 |

It felt so special to complete my 3 weeks of volunteering by raising the flag on the last day. I self-consciously walked over to the rostrum and stood opposite a soldier, waiting for the commander to lead the ceremony. There are 2 commanders who usually call out the standing positions – one guy who half-heartedly calls out a few and then it’s over before you know it, and a girl who thinks she’s the bee’s knees and shouts at us for about 5 minutes before our aching arms can rest. Today we had the moody girl, so the ceremony lasted a while – typical! I let the other soldier lower the flag so that I could have the honour of raising it.

We spent the morning packing, cleaning our dorms, cleaning the common room, returning our uniforms (I was quite reluctant to let mine go…), and I finally went to the “shekem” (tuck shop) to stuff my hand luggage with Doritos and Sappé (the delicious aloe vera drink). The commander of the base came to thank us for our work, and I couldn’t believe that 3 weeks had passed since he first welcomed us here!

We went to the warehouse for a final goodbye, and the lovely workers threw us a leaving party. One of the soldiers made us a huge banner that read: “Dear Volunteers, thanks for everything like warehouse Hhizzit”. We felt bad because they’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble, but we had no idea what the banner actually meant… Oh, and there was an abundance of Bamba, so I had to stay well away! We took loads of group photos (I thought we weren’t allowed to take photos in the work place…) and thanked our favourite managers. Some of them made speeches to thank us for our work. They said they were genuinely surprised that young people actually wanted to work here and didn’t complain about the tasks. They want us to return as volunteers some time in the future, and I might consider it (despite the fact that it would be a completely different experience with a new group). They sounded sincere when they thanked us, and it really meant a lot to me because you can never be sure whether you’re making a difference or whether anything matters in the grand scheme of things. (I also got to speak a bit more to Soulja Boy, and everyone was teasing us as we got a photo together and said our goodbyes.)

We all got on the coach and made our final journey out of the base towards Tel Aviv. We departed at the usual meeting point, and it was really sad to leave the friends we had volunteered, messed around, drank chocolate milk and complained with for the past 3 weeks. A group of us ventured on to Tel Aviv, and my Canadian friend and I checked into a trendy boutique hotel where we’d spend our last night. Before we grabbed a much-needed Aroma iced drink and met up with the Australian boy, Canadian boy and the girl from Calgary, I received a surprise message from Soulja Boy! For the rest of the afternoon, as a group, we were all crowding round the phone trying to reply to his messages. As much as I wanted to meet up, I much preferred spending my last afternoon and evening with my Sar-El friends – he’ll just remain a cute inside joke from my time in the warehouse.

The group of us went to a beach closer to the main stretch of hotels, and the sea there had far bigger waves to ride. We wanted to borrow a surf board from a randomer we named Raoul, and for some unknown reason I screamed “Raaaouuulllll!!!” at the top of my lungs whilst we floated about with the Australian boy’s Go-Pro and got swallowed by the waves numerous times. When I started to get a bit of motion sickness, I managed to find a solitary spot of shade on the sand: the shadow from a swimming rules sign. For dinner, we went to Neve Tzedek. There was such a buzzing atmosphere and I loved wandering around the cute artists’ market, food stalls and shops. We found the one Kosher restaurant there and tried some traditional home made food. It was hilarious when the Australian boy (who was trying SO HARD to be Kosher) asked if he could have chocolate milk with his schnitzel!!!

After our meal, we soaked up the awesome ambience and headed to the military hostel to visit our madricha whilst she was on guard duty. We finally got to see her with a gun! It was so nice to spend time with her off-base. When 2 hours had passed after the meal, we walked to Yafo in search of some ice cream (I had a chocolate soufflé with cookies and cream ice cream); Yafo has a completely different feel to Tel Aviv, for example: it’s so… Middle Eastern! We then returned to the military hostel and stayed there until the curfew (midnight) when we got kicked out. It was a long but fun evening, and I especially enjoyed the hour’s walk back from Yafo to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t believe how busy the parks were by the sea, how peaceful it was to stroll along the promenade, and how alive I felt in that moment.

The girl from Calgary didn’t manage to catch a train to her couch-surfing hosts, so she stayed with us in the hotel, and I had a good rest before arriving early at the airport the next morning. In the arrivals hall, I watched the Genesis trip highlights video before checking in, and I cried a little. I just felt a whole range of emotions all at once; I was so happy about the amazing experiences that I’d had in Israel, but I was devastated to have to go home! I stocked up on snacks before my flight – Doritos, obviously – and actually had a really pleasant flight. The plane was quite plush and the food was great (we were served ice lollies – I didn’t know that was a thing). But enough about the food… arriving in London was, by far, the most miserable moment of the summer. Why does England have to be so… GREY?! I guess I’ll have to start looking into booking another trip to Israel some time soon, because I’m already having severe withdrawal symptoms…

Shabbat Sunset {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #6}

Shabbat Sunset {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #6}  | Friday 15th July 2016 |

Israeli breakfasts are the best. Fact. Our hotel had a huge buffet with cereals, a deli counter, an egg making station, a pastry corner, a make-your-own-soup table and an area for all the typical Israeli dishes like “shakshuka”. We ate so much food that we couldn’t get up for a while…
We headed to Nahalat Binyamin, the artists’ market, but ended up wandering through Shuk Ha Carmel first. It’s a very crowded half-covered market that sells everything from flip flops to Shabbat candles to fresh smoothies to mini canvas prints… It’s a really fun, buzzing place to be, but Friday mornings are hectic because everyone goes shopping there before Shabbat, when everything closes. I bought some fire pants, a skirt and a Magen David necklace. 

Exhausted from the hustle and bustle of the shuk (and from walking 20 minutes to find a pharmacy and supermarket), we started meandering through the artists’ market. I absolutely loved looking at the craftsmen’s handmade work. There were some really lovely pieces of unique jewellery and quirky sculptures made from wire, wood and ceramics. It was interesting talking to the artists and finding out how they make their work. I didn’t realise how big the market was- next week we are planning to return so we can go to the end and buy some bits and pieces. 

After a dip in the pool, we headed to the beach opposite our hotel. (We almost went into the men-only beach by accident!) We were in the sea for about 1.5 hours (time flew by so quickly) and left just as the sun was setting (in time for Shabbat). The airport is really close so every few minutes we had planes flying directly above us when we were in the sea. Like I said yesterday, the sunsets here are absolutely beautiful; the colours are so vibrant and it just makes me happy when I experience nature in this way. I love that you can go to the coast and just walk onto the beach at any time you want. It was so relaxing wading in the water, and we had so much fun jumping around in the waves. Thankfully we didn’t get stung by jellyfish! 

Shabbat dinner was delicious! Just like at breakfast, we stuffed ourselves with food from every buffet station. I had chicken soup, challah, beef stew, cous cous, schnitzel, sausages and meat strudel, followed by some chocolate and passion fruit cake slices for dessert. I’m normally disciplined when it comes to food but when you’re eating potatoes 24/7 at the base, it’s hard not to go a bit overboard when you have so much choice. As you can tell, I’m quite passionate about food…

Top Ten Summer Reads 2015

The weather may be dire at the moment, but it’s still summer! For some reason I associate books with seasons, depending on where/when they’re set and how they make me feel. Sometimes I save books for the winter simply because they have either a darker, more ominous cover or a pale blue, icy looking cover – reflecting the darkness and coldness of harsh winters. Likewise, books with covers that are brighter and have a floral design I tend to save for the summer, and books that I know are ‘ChickLit’ I take on holiday with me (because lying in the sun with a heavy 400-page psychological thriller makes me feel uneasy at the thought of it)! I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but who actually follows that rule?!

Here are (in no particular order) my top 10 light reads for the summer time – perfect for reading whilst lounging about in the sun, in the park, or shut away in your bedroom (if it rains nearly as much in your area as it does here).

1 – Ink by Amanda Sun ink-by-amanda-sun

Katie has recently moved to Shizuoka, Japan, to live with her aunt. She is clumsy, socially awkward and is still adjusting to the new culture. She encounters a seemingly dangerous boy, Yuu Tomohiro, and as the spring flowers blossom, so does their relationship. Katie is desperate to find out Tomo’s secret, and finds herself somehow linked to a magical power originally from ancient Japanese mythology. When Katie has the opportunity to move in with her grandparents in Canada, will she leave behind her new friends, Tomo, and the living ink sketches, in order to escape the gang eager to stamp out Tomo’s destiny?

I absolutely loved this book – how the fantastical elements are so smoothly incorporated into Katie’s story. Despite it being a fictional story, it really opened my eyes to Japanese culture and daily life, and there is even a glossary at the back so that you can pick up some of the conversational Japanese used by the characters. I also enjoyed the outdoor descriptions and learning about the tradition of having a picnic under the blossom trees. Finally, the illustrations throughout the book are a lovely accompaniment to the story and really bring the sketches to life for the reader. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy, world culture, and art.

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2 – Meet Me At The Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan

A typically British summer, a typically awful boyfriend and a typically awkward woman trying to recover from losing her typically boring day job. When her amazing cupcakes save the day, everything turns around and life begins to pick up again. Read this if you enjoy romance and cake (who wouldn’t?)

PaperTowns2009_6A-198x3003 & 4 – Paper Towns by John Green and Life Of Pi by Yan Martel Life-of-Pi

These books are bursting with colour and adventure. The Paper Towns characters are on a mission to find Margo, who has mysteriously disappeared, leaving clues everywhere. Q’s friends are lively and hilarious, each with their own quirks. They are now high school graduates and decide to go on a big journey to retrieve their friend. In Life Of Pi, Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a tiger and a zebra, bound for the great unknown. This is a wild and imaginative journey where Pi learns to tame Richard Parker (the tiger) and provide for himself whilst hopelessly traveling in the ocean. I love both Pi’s insightful commentary on his life story and Q’s witty narration. I would recommend these books to readers who have an inner explorer and love escaping to other worlds not too dissimilar from their own. Click here to read my post about Paper Towns.

FangirlWIP5 – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is perhaps my favourite author to date. I am so excited to read Attachments (which I have been saving until after my exams) and Landline (when it’s out in paperback). Fangirl is quite relevant to me at the moment because, as well as being a huge fangirl, I am also starting university in September like Cath and Wren. This is such a wonderful novel, and I would highly recommend it (along with Rowell’s other books). Click here to read my brief review.

Book-delirium6 – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Yet another dystopian novel that I love, where each 16 year old has surgery to remove ‘love’ and is forbidden to have particular feelings. Lena realises that she does not want to participate in the government’s scheme, and finds a way to escape and live as a nomad beyond the borders. This is a coming-of-age story about first love and brave acts of rebellion.

161433477 – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This book is all about family politics and one girl’s experiences of the past few summer holidays spent on a private island. It’s poetic and exciting, and there is a huge plot twist at the end (so make sure you avoid spoilers)! Click here to read my brief review.

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8 – The Other Life by Suzanne Winnacker

In the suburbs of Los Angeles, Sherry’s family are in hiding until the Military tells them it’s safe to come out of their shelter. They have been waiting for 5 years, and their food has now run out, so Sherry and her dad decide to venture out to find food, even though they risk their lives. When Sherry’s dad is captured by mutilated creatures, she has no choice but to run away with Joshua, a hunter who is lurking nearby. How will she find her family again before they die of starvation, and how will she rescue her dad? I have just read this post-apocalyptic novel and although there aren’t many aspects that differ from other current books of this genre, it was a really good read. The action is gripping and exciting, and the characters are all interesting in their own way. I liked that there is a focus on developing the character of each family member so that the reader gets to learn about their personality and what makes them tick. I would recommend it to any fan of dystopian fiction (the cover says that it’s appropriate for fans of The Hunger Games, which I can partially agree with).

9 – The Selection by Kiera Cass 10507293

Potential princesses and pretty dresses – need I say more?

10 – Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur5982448

This book is aimed at younger teenagers, but I enjoyed it all the same because of the heart warming and uplifting story of the young protagonist. The story centres on Aubrey, who is recently orphaned and decides to try and survive by herself during the summer. If you like stories about families and young children finding their way in the world, this book is for you.

Bonus:

Ask The Passengers by A.S. King, Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson are three books that I would love to add to this list… but I haven’t read them yet! They’re just sitting on my shelf, begging to be read this summer.

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Top Ten Summer Tracks For 2014

Let’s kick off this holiday with some music to get us in a summery mood. Here are ten songs to brighten up your days spent having fun in the sun (whilst I’m stuck at home writing essays)…

1) Bamboleo by Gipsy Kings

2) Holiday by Green Day

3) Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet

4) Hit And Run by LOLO

5) Na Na Na by My Chemical Romance

6) The Calender by Panic! At The Disco

7) Our Time Now by Plain White T’s

8) Lightning In A Bottle by The Summer Set

9) Drive By by Train

10) To The Sky by Owl City

Which songs should I add to the list? Let me know what you will be listening to this summer.

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The Second Plague

I happened to come across a pond full of sunbathing frogs (quite fitting as I have been celebrating Passover), and I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take photos of them. I was determined to get as close as possible without them springing into the water out of fear. So I became the Stealthy Amphibian Paparazzi for a few minutes: lying on a bridge and sticking my arm out of the fencing (praying I wouldn’t drop my camera), crouching in the soil with ants crawling into my espadrilles, sneaking through the bushes whilst swatting away hormonal wasps… All that effort for a couple of snaps*, but I just think it’s the coolest thing to see interesting creatures up close and personal.

*Please click on the photos to view them on a larger scale so that you can see the detail on their skin!

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Flora Into Focus

Another nature-inspired photography expedition! I’ve been exploring more of my camera’s settings recently, and in this collection of photos, you’ll notice that I’ve tried to capture (parts of) plants in the foreground, while the backgrounds remain abstract and out of focus. I wanted to highlight the subjects by making them sharper, to stand out from the general foliage. I’m no expert in composition, but I’m satisfied that these comply with the criteria I’d set out to investigate on my travels. These images were taken abroad (though I did wish we grew birds of paradise in our back garden) which is why some of the flora looks quite exotic. To you, they may be ordinary photos of plants, but right now I’m just continuing to experiment with my camera, and trying to be artistic…

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City of Sky and Glass

I was lucky enough to embark on a dream journey around the city of New York, which has always been a place I have longed to visit. Having spent a week there, I got a flavour of the culture and lifestyle, which is completely different to my own. The city is always, always bustling with tourists, business people, dodgy looking men lurking on street corners…

You can’t possibly imagine the scale of all the buildings unless you’re there – you often see whole skyscrapers reflected in other skyscrapers! It felt like London had been given plastic surgery: a bit of alligning the roads into a neat grid of avenues and streets, a bit of scrubbing and polishing, and a lot of pulling here and there – stretching the skin of the buildings as much as is humanly possible!

I enjoyed taking lots of photos of all the famous sites I visited, the food, exciting pop culture things which are practically meaningless to anyone else, and of course, my family. In this small selection of photographs from my adventure, I wanted to capture specifically the futuristic architecture and uniqueness of such an imposing, enormous city. In an attempt to impress you, I present to you the City of Sky and Glass…