Crossing the Border in Jerusalem

Crossing the Border in Jerusalem

Crossing border checkpoints in Israel can be nerve-racking. Doing so with a taxi driver you have never met makes it even more so.

This was the first time I had traveled outside of the United States. I chose Israel and I knew this was not the first country of choice for American travelers. This was the first of two trips I made there in a two year period. On this trip, I had come alone.

I had been asked by many friends and coworkers why I was going there out of all the places I could visit. The assumption being it is dangerous and anyone who goes there is at risk of being blown up at a bus stop.

I was going as part of a group organized by a talk radio host who was sponsoring the tour and I knew we would be getting special access to sites that regular run-of-the-mill tour groups do not.

As a single traveler, my hotel room was booked with another man from the group. He was from Los Angeles and was really into photography. I had just purchased a Nikon D70 and this was going to be my first opportunity to use it. My roommate also used Nikon, albeit a much nicer model.

Because our arrival was so late at night, there was little time for much other than the dinner provided by the host. It was the beginning of Shabbat and the city was quiet. The elevators in the hotel were on a Shabbat schedule, meaning they stopped automatically on every floor as they went up and down. Passengers jumped on and off as needed to get where they needed to be. This was a slow process but it allowed time to talk to hotel guests and meet new people.

Since the next day was Saturday and it was still the middle of Shabbat, we had a free day scheduled to do as we please. My roommate wanted to go outside and walk around taking pictures and I thought I would tag along.

There was a short line of taxis in front of the hotel. We briefly walked a block or two and wandered back to the front of the hotel. There was an Arab driver standing there and he offered to take us to any sites in or around the city. Knowing we would be visiting a lot of famous places on the tour, I didn’t want him to take me to any of the same sites I would be visiting in coming days. But not knowing the area, I really didn’t know where to go or what to see.

The driver was an Arab Israeli and knew the bible well. Well, he at least knew it better than I do, which might not be saying much. The first stops on his whirlwind tour were a few places around the Mount of Olives.

Schindler's GraveI saw some of the historic cemeteries, including the cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried. Although it made sense, I didn’t know that Schindler was buried in Israel and was something I was glad the driver had mentioned. This was quite amazing to me considering Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party. His grave is in a Christian cemetery and is clearly marked for visitors to find; his tombstone marked with rocks rather than flowers, as it is customary with Jews.

My taxi driver waited patiently at each stop and was ready to take me on a journey once I was done at Schindler’s grave. He was very interested in showing me some parts around the city of Jerusalem.

He pulled off the side of the road and encouraged me to take photos of neighborhoods that were fenced to separate the Arab neighborhoods from the Jewish neighborhoods. This was at the time Israel had built the permanent security wall throughout the city.

As we continued to drive, he shared stories of violence along the border. He pointed out concrete barriers along the road that are used to block sniper bullets fired at drivers on the highway. He also pointed out a particular house on a hill overlooking a checkpoint. Here is where gunfire is exchanged with soldiers, he stated nonchalantly.

checkpointBefore it registered in my mind, we were approaching a checkpoint and headed to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. We were quickly waved through by the soldiers before we even came to a complete stop.

The other side of the border checkpoint felt different. There were cars parked along the street and a bus waiting for passengers to arrive back from the Israeli side. We stopped and some happy Palestinian kids sold us strong Turkish coffee on the side of the road.

palestinian farmerThe expedition to this side was brief but it gave a glimpse of life on the other side of the wall. A regional farmer rode his donkey up the street as if cars did not travel on this particular road. People carried personal possessions in plastic bags, rather than duffel bags or backpacks.

israeli checkpointHeading back to the Israeli side of the border, we were stopped by the guards. The taxi driver asked me if I wanted photos with them. I shrugged, not thinking it would be possible. He told the soldiers I was a U.S. Marine and I wanted a photo with them. They were quick to oblige his request as the driver snapped a shot with my camera.

This visit in 2006 was not only safe, it was memorable, thanks to my personal guide. As it turned out, my roommate wasted the day in the hotel. I spent $100 on my personal tour and I felt like it was worth every penny I had spent that day. On my third visit to Israel, I hope to venture deeper into the West Bank and visit more of the landmarks that lie on the other side of the border fence.


There Are No Cobwebs in Turkey

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

It’s not just ostrich feathers that are effective against spider webs. As it turns out, ostrich eggs do the trick too.

Structures in Ottoman Turkey are old. But this doesn’t mean the country’s centuries-old buildings are covered in dust and cobwebs. The Turks have a trick that it seems few people know about.

Hippodrome & Rüstem Pasha Mosque


Rüstem Pasha Mosque exterior view


Sitting just across from the Hippodrome & Grand Bazaar the Rüstem Pasha Mosque rises from the banks of the nearby Bosphorus River. The mosque does not seem to stand out from its surroundings like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The exterior is an ordinary gray but the structure is easily recognizable as a mosque with its dome and minarets.

Although Rüstem Pasha was built many centuries after the Dome of the Rock, it features interior tiles similar to those found on the exterior of the Jerusalem landmark.

Iznik tiles

This is not too surprising considering the external tiles were added by tile-makers sent from Istanbul by Sultan Suleiman around the same time period that Rüstem Pasha Mosque was built.


On my visit to the mosque, my tour guide Salih from Gate 1 Travel commented on the lack of cobwebs among the large archways and high chandeliers. He muttered this as if he was marveling about it for the first time. He was bringing it up, I suppose, so he could talk about a secret way to keep spiders out of buildings. It’s quite simple he explained. The mosques place ostrich eggs around the chandeliers and it naturally repels the spiders, therefore, you won’t find cobwebs around the lights.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque interior view


Salih provided few details about how this works. Where are the eggs kept? I assume the inside of the eggs have been cleaned, right? Where can I find more information about this?

As someone who hates the mess spiders leave in your home, I was anxious to learn more about this natural spider repellent. I couldn’t seem to find much information on the internet about this at the time.

Today there are several references that seem to confirm the effectiveness of this natural spider repellent. I can’t dust around a window or clear spider webs from the walls and ceilings without thinking of this story. I plan to order some eggs soon and put them to the test.