Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten tips for photographing wild flowers in Isreal

Israel may be a tiny country but you would not guess it by the amazing large range of wild flowers found here in the Holy Land.

The wild flowers bloom in the short period of time between the winter rains and the heat of the summer, or the short-lived spring time. Depending on the winter rain and the weather, this can be anytime from mid- February to April.
The shy Cyclamen usual opens the wild flower season
So if you want to photograph the lovely wild flowers, have your eyes open and your cameras ready. They quickly wilt and disappear in the warm winds that precede the long, hot summer months and only re-appear the next year.

I am one of these wild flower photographer enthusiasts and have put together this list of advice for shooting the Israeli wild flowers. I hope it will be helpful!

1. People often go to parks and wild life sanctuaries to see the wild flowers, but keep your eyes open - they basically grow everywhere. I have also found wild flowers in unkept back yards, traffic circles and abandoned building sites.

A lovely shade of blue in a wild iris.

The best weather for shooting wild flowers are cloudy, overcast days that are not windy. Even the slightest breeze will make the flowers dance around on their delicate stems. Clouds will help to block the strong Israeli sun rays and also ensure that you do not cast a shadow over the flowers that you want to shoot.

2. Realize that not all of the wild flowers grow at the same time. The shy cyclamens arrive when it is still winter whereas the yellow mustard flowers only grow after a few hot sunny days. And the beautiful red anemones (kalaniot) arrive more or less in between these two.
I had to lay on the ground to get this shot of a young poppy.
If you want to photograph all of the wild flowers at their best, you are definitely going to have to go on more than one photo trip.

3. Wear (very) comfortable clothes that can get dirty. You are going to do a lot of bending and lying on the ground and the earth can still be muddy. 

I definitely recommend lying on the ground to shoot different angles of the flowers. Clothes can always be washed! Just be carefully not to sit or on stretch out on any of the flowers. They are protected here in Israel :).

Please also do not pick any of the wild flowers and be aware that:
a. every single Israeli will yell at you
b. you can be fined

Tiny but pretty.

4. Wear brightly colored clothes so that you will easily be seen by cyclists or people walking with with dogs while you are quietly crouching down between the flowers. (And no, I am NOT talking about ANY personal experience :), but a few dogs did came and sniff the very same flowers I was photographing. So I am just saying...

5. Bring a macro lens if you have one, some of the wild flowers are really tiny. If you do not have a macro lens, experiment with your camera's manual focus. I managed to get some nice close-ups with manual focus. Just pay attention to how close you are to the flowers and/or bushes. Some of them have thorns and you do not want to scratch your camera's lens.
I took this photo of a Hollyhocks that is growing in the middle of a traffic circle. And yes, the motorists DID stare at me.

6. Wear insect repellent. And yes, you are definitely going to be bitten by mosquitoes. I shot MANY bugs on flowers and learned to gently shake a flower to make them fly away when I wanted a photo of just the flower.

People with bee allergies should be extra careful because there are bees EVERYWHERE.

7. Spring time is also the time that snakes start to wake up from hibernating. So please take care when the days are starting to get warm and you wander of the paths in hot pursuit after another amazing wild flower.

Another look at one of my favourite's. Either Queen Anne's Lace or Poison Hemlock which are very similar to each other.

8. It is a good idea to take a snack and a bottle of water with you. All the bending down to low-lying flowers and straightening up again can make you dizzy and you might have to stabilize your blood sugar a bit. And in Israel you should never leave the house without a bottle of water anyway.

9. Don't fall into the trap of only trying to get close-ups or macro shots of the wild flowers. They look just as amazing from afar as they color the usual dry-grey fields into artists' palettes.
One of the many insects just waiting to bite you on a Wild Garlic flower.

10. Be prepared to be amazed! I have been shooting the wonderful wild flowers here in Israel for a while now and keep discovering wild flowers that I never knew existed. Their beauty also continues to amaze me. No wonder their praises were sung in the Bible! :)

You cannot visit or live in Israel during the spring time and not photograph the wild flowers.

Happy shooting!
A path next to the beach in Haifa. Still pretty, but the grasses are already dry.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Amazing Metal Work found in Israel

The architecture found in Israel is pretty amazing.

People have been building here in the Holy land since ancient times. And they left some pretty amazing buildings from the times that they lived here in Israel.

From the Western wall in Jerusalem, churches,synagogues, museums to apartment blocks build in the Bauhaus style - there is some pretty interesting buildings to see. And while you look around you a bit and try and figure who and when these buildings were build, have a look at the amazing metal work found here in Israel.

Modern balcony railing
A beautiful old building with a beautiful old railing

Like mascara for building - the railings just make these balconies so much prettier

The older type of building (built around the 1900's) have the most beautifully made and intricate balcony railings. And older houses will often show off an interesting gate or fence.

But even the modern buildings have beautiful railings, though most probably mass-produced. And probably also imported.

Metal bunch of grapes found inside a gate.

Something pretty to hold up the grape vines
But still - there seems to be a tradition of beautiful metal work here in Israel. I often wonder if there was a special metal work guild here that took pride in using the most intricate and amazing patterns. Did the old metal workers had fierce competition between them to be as creative as possible?

I really do not have the answers, but I still enjoy looking at the metal art that they have left behind.

If you come for a visit and tour around the country, keep an eye open for amazing metal work that enhances the buildings and houses here.

Someone who took care and had lots of patience built this beautiful railing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sukkot - The Holiday of Little Huts

A very patriotic sukkah

All the Jewish holidays have special customs and traditions that make then quite distinctive from each other.

So if you are eating doughnuts and lighting a menora, you know that is is Hanukka. In the Jewish New year, Rosh haShana, one eats pomegranates and listen to a shofar. At Yom Kippur you fast and in Sukkot you sit in a little hut.

Say what? A holiday where you sit in a little hut!?

Yup, that is right. The little huts (or booths) represents the temporary dwellings the Hebrews liven in while they wandered for forty years in the desert. Sukkot is sometimes translated as the ' Feast of the Tabernacles' but that is not 100% correct. The tabernacle is known in Hebrew as the 'Mishkan' and is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Succot refers to the dwellings the people lived in.

A succah in making
A succah in the garden
Right after Yom Kippur people start building these little huts in their yards and on their porches and balconies. Any design goes, as long as it is a temporary structure with at least three walls and a roof that is made from something that grew in the earth such as branches or sticks. The branches must be arranged in such a way that the stars can be still be seen but there should be more shade that sun inside the hut.

Of course children just love these little 'forts' and it is often their responsibility to decorate the sukkah. The Jewish commandment is to dwell in the sukkah during Sukkot and this is usually fulfilled by eating all the meals there during the seven days of Sukkot. Restaurants and hotels also make sure that their patrons have a succah to eat their meals in. I have even seen succas put up in a picnic place at the end of a hiking trail.

A succah on the second floor
Some people also try sleeping in their succas but the rain season in Israel starts at this time. It is not uncommon to see people run into their house in the middle of the night!

As soon as Succot ends, the little huts are folded up and stored away until the next year and the dead branches and decorations thrown away.

Just before Sukkot the municipalities give the palm and date trees 'hair cuts' so that people can use the old branches in their sukkahs.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What is the connection between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year?

Another year and another Jewish New Year, or rather Rosh haShana (the head of the year).
And again we see pomegranates ALL over the place! I mean like...EveryWhere!
  • There are pomegranates on the greeting cards we send each other for Rosh haShana
  • There are heaps of pomegranates in the supermarkets
  • There are pomegranate recipes in every single newspaper and magazine
  • There are pomegranates, real and decorative ones, on the table during the Rosh haShana meals. As a matter of fact, pomegranate seeds are one of food stuffs that have a special blessing.
  • The juice guys on the street corners are selling more pomegranate juice than ever
  • The are even pomegranates growing like crazy all over Israel. They are practically 'dripping' from their trees.
So what is the story with all these pomegranates all over the place?
Well, the story is two-fold:
1. Jews eat pomegranates during Rosh haShana to a sign that people's good deeds should be as plentiful as the  seeds of a pomegranate.
There are 613 good deeds that Jews should do and legend has it that this is the exact number of pomegranate seeds found in a pomegranate. And no, I have not counted all the seeds in one pomegranate.But I would like hear from you if you have! I am really curious to know if this is really true :)
Trees are filled with pomegranates during Rosh Hashana in Israel.
2. Pomegranates are now in season in Israel. And it is pretty obvious that the fruit that are in season will be in the supermarkets and growing in the trees and will be eaten with relish and all that.
But let's put point 1 and point 2 together and think a bit about it.... The pomegranates are in season in Israel at the exact time period when Rosh haShana is celebrated and the Jewish people has a special prayer for them.
There are many such connections between Judaism and the land of Israel, but I particularly like this one. Maybe it is because the pomegranate seeds are so beautiful and jewel-like or because they grow so plentiful on their trees. But I think it is because they are sweet and healthy and and a beautiful symbol for the hope of a wonderful Rosh haShana.
Happy 5774 everyone!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The new Moshava park in Zichron Yaakov

The light water fountain that changed colors at opening night.
A new park opened this summer in Zichron Yaakov with the usual pose and ceremony due to a major in an election year. But it was still easy enough to block out all the self-congratulating speeches and just enjoy the entire spectacle.
  • We had people standing in long ques vying for the right to buy an expensive hamburger or a small slice of pizza (yes, me too)
  • Young children had various kids TV-personalities entertaining them from a temporary stage
  • The light water fountain changed colors and magicked all of us
  • We had the very popular Israeli band דג נחש (Fish Snake) playing their hits songs ( I am also a fan)
  • It felt as if every young child in Zichron were climbing about on the spanking-new jungle gyms and monkey bars
Luckily the politicians went home, the food stands packed up and the temporary stage was dismantled. And a few days later my children and I visited the park in the broad daylight to see if the park is really a promising as it looked at opening night.

The park itself looks basically like one would expect a new park to look like. Lots of newly planted trees, new grass and not a lot of flowers yet. The grapevines, probably as a nod to the fact that Zichron is 'wine-country' still has to grow and cover the arbor.

But the part of the park that my children really enjoyed was the playgrounds. There are two large playgrounds, one for small children and one for larger kids. Quite a lot of not-so-young children were also enjoying the jungle gyms and slides. But one can hardly blame them - even I felt like climbing the colorful wall or getting caught up in the large 'spider net'. Maybe one day when the park is not so packed and my children will allow me..)
The littl' ones playground.

A few children enjoying the sprinklers on a hot summer day.

One of the newly plant pomegranate trees.

There is not really a lot to do for grown-ups, except for maybe strolling or cycling around the park a bit. Once the trees have grown a bit though, it will be a great place for picnics. 

There are toilets at the new park, but they are those portable types and are only found in the far corner of the park. They are a bit too far for a small child playing on the slides who suddenly really have to go.

There are 3 entances to the park, but only one can be reached by car. Go to the Halomot Zichron neighbourhood, turn towards the high school and keep on going until the road ends in a parking lot.

Some of the newly planted vineyards that will eventually cover an arbor.

The most wonderful monkey bars and jungles gyms waiting to be explored.

A large spider's net to get caught in.
So if you have young children,  bring them to the new moshava park in Zichron Yaakov, they will definitely have a blast. If not, wait a bit until the weather is a bit cooler or the park has 'grown' a bit. In a few years' time the moshava park is going to look great and will for sure be a great place to visit.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Jerusalem Pine of Israel - a hate/love story

I have always taken offense at the Jerusalem pine trees that one sees dotted all over the landscape here in Israel.

They are just too scraggy, skinny and needle-ly and let's be honest: UGLY. I mean just look at it...

I just could not understand why anybody would think that there is anything nice about this nasty tree. And in the hills around Jerusalem they have whole forests full of these things!!

AND the Jerusalem pine is not even its correct name, it is actually called the Aleppo pine. People only started to call it the Jerusalem pine because there are so many of them in and around Jerusalem. But these ugly stuff are found just about all over Israel. Its biological name is Pinus halepensis.

I live in the northern part of Israel and have met many of these Aleppo pine trees here too.

The biggest strike against the Aleppo pine is of course that it is ...(gasp!) not even a native tree of Israel.

Yes, I know. This tree is basically a symbol of Israel...but I have to add that I have not yet got 100% confirmation about the fact that the Jerusalem pine is not a native of Israel. Feel free to comment if you know or just think you know:)

Apparently way back  when the British had control of the Israel, they decided to re-forest the country with these hardy pine trees that basically do not need much water or looking after AND grow fast and they found all over in the Mediterranean area anyways. The Turks (just before the Brits) in all of their wisdom practically chopped down every tree that they could get their hands on to built a railway all the way to Mecca.

So, enter the Jerusalem pine into Israel.

And after independence, the KKL took over from the Brits and just carried on planting the same trees. Different tree planters, same trees. And they really like to plant trees, they do it all the time. The KKL are probably  planting trees up to this very minute! (But I am not sure if they are still planting Jerusalem pines.)

And now Israel are basically filled with the Jerusalem pine wherever you look. As a matter of fact, they sort of have started to grow on me. Yeah, I know lovely pun.

So they are scraggly and ugly looking but they also basically grow anywhere, can make do without much water and they seem to have this Zen-like quality about them. I cannot believe that I am writing this, but these ugly trees have started to look beautiful to me.

One can probably make all kinds of metaphorical comparisons from this such as that you should not judge a tree by its bark. Or that the tough Jerusalem pine represents the tough and often rude Israeli's that somehow grows on you. 

But no.

This is about the ugly, scraggly Jerusalem pine that might not even have been a native, but have become part of the landscape. Here's to you, you ugly old thing - thanks for opening my eyes!

Monday, June 10, 2013

You know you live in Israel....

You know that you are living in Israel when:

You get off your bicycle every five minutes to photograph the wild flowers.

The red poppies in the spring time have their photos taken ALL the time.

Road signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English

Garlic is an essential ingredient in just about EVERYTHING that you cook..and lots of it too.

People can peacefully sleep in Rotschild street (the most upmarket street in Tel-Aviv) to protest against the exorbitant living costs. They were not very successful by the way, but at least nobody got hurt.

The numbers on clock faces are in Hebrew letters and not Roman numbers.

There is Arabic graffiti on trees (I have seen Hebrew graffiti too on trees). This photo was taken in the Ramat haNadiv reserve.

This was quite fun, wasn't it? I shall definitely write more blog posts like these...just watch this space!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Bahá'í Gardens and Temple in Haifa

One does not just find Jews, Muslims and Christians living in Israel. Also the followers of the Bahá'í fait have strong historical connections to this this tiny country. But in comparison to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the center of the Bahá'í is in Haifa, and not in Jerusalem.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Haveil Havalim number 397

The politician Yair Lapid looking looking very happy, "suave" and may we say a bit "vain" about the outcome of the recent elections.
"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Kohelet 1 (Ecclesiates) 

A new year and another turn to host Haveil Havalim - a carnival of Jewish and Israeli blogs.The Haveil Havalim blog carnival was founded by Soccer Dad and every week a different blogger takes a turn to host a weekly collection of blog posts.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Israeli Beaches in the Winter

What do you do in Israel on a nice sunny winter's day?

You go to the beach of course!
  • The water may be too cold to swim in. (Except for a few brave souls whom I suspect of being former Russian immigrants :))
  • And the lifeguards' huts are all boarded up.
  • No umbrellas cover the beach cheek by jowl.
  • And the smell of coconut suntan lotion is absent...