Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why didn't we get a Mac sooner?

So macs are ridiculously user-friendly. Everyone, you were right. Bask away.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace - and Free Wi Fi!!

Jerusalem. What is there to say about it? It's the capital of Israel, a modern city and also the country's largest. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, is here, as is its supreme court and prime minister headquarters. There are highrises, lowrises, shops, restaurants, cafes. Culture abounds - with internationally recognized artists, musicians, actors. World leaders visit all the time. Almost every language you can think of is spoken here. In this respect, it's a modern, international city in a democratic society.

Modern Jerusalem. This is the "new city". Construction everywhere with many foreigners buying second homes here.

Except it's not that simple.

Its history dates back anywhere from 4,000-10,000 BCE, depending on who you ask. Either way, that's freakin' old. It's the birthplace of monotheism and critical for many of the world's religions. The holiest city in Judaism, third-holiest in Islam, and where Jesus just happens to be buried. Jesus, peeps! That's big stuff.

Therein lies the lifelong dichotomy of this city. It wants to be progressive and modern. Really, it does. New York. Paris. Rome. Jerusalem. It kind of works. But on the other hand, it never really will. Imagine, if you will, taking a tour. You walk on a freshly paved sidewalk, surrounded by shops. Zara, H&M, all the latest fashions. "Here, on your left, is the newest sushi bar, also the trendiest nightspot....".

Impossible to describe the smells of all these spices and incense all mixed together. Not to mention adding in men on the corners smoking hookahs.

You turn the corner. Suddenly you're on cobblestone a car could never go on. "Here, on your right, is where Jesus was resurrected. That corner is where David fought Goliath. Oh, and this was where Solomon did his thinking".

Far right, sign in Arabic in East Jerusalem, in the "shuk".

Middle, woman praying at the Western Wall.See what I mean? The modern thing will never fully work.

The other dilemma with Jerusalem is that everyone and their mother has a claim to this place. Come here and you will see the Arab-Israeli conflict with your own eyes. Fundamentalists on all sides. Haredim and Arabs fighting it out for who can have the higher birth rate. Modern life colliding with tradition.....and losing. Clearly. The weirdest feeling was watching Palestinian children run around, thinking one could have a bomb strapped to them in the near future. Because it's out of this poverty, right here, that Hamas rules. Sad, but don't be fooled, it's true. Not the most comfortable place for an American Jew to be walking around. Let's just say it was obvious Poker Chick did not belong and was not wanted walking around there.

It looks old, but if you look carefully you'll see the "Free Wi Fi" on the orange sign in the picture above.

In reality, it's Israel's capital, but the world does not acknowledge this. It's also the capital claimed by the Palestinians. Or, if you ask someone else, it belongs to the world. Huh. Clearly, an issue.

No matter what happens, it'll always be a history of unbelievable historical significance. To turn a corner and suddenly feel like you've stepped back in time hundreds or even thousands of years is indescribable.

Woman selling grape leaves in East Jerusalem.

It's impossible to talk middle east politics without having seen this for yourself. It will change your whole perspective. Go. Whatever you believe, go. There's nothing else like it.


A shoutout to our new friend, Sophie, who's new to the blogging world. Check her out.

A little somethin'

More posts tonight. Am back from the longest flights, ever, but here are a few more travel highlights until I can post more:

  • The sun and the sea are a fabulous cure for the common cold
  • You can bargain in the drugstore in Israel. Who knew?
  • Facebook is amazing. Seeing a 35+ Australian traveler log in at a coffeeshop in Amsterdam to update her profile....that is a small world!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tel Aviv is for Yuppies

Poker Chick is sad to report that for the first time ever, she's not coming back from Tel Aviv with bags and bags of souvenirs and goodies*. Why? She can't afford it. Yes, we've been through the weak dollar argument. But it's clearly more than that. The Israeli economy is booming.

The average 2-bedroom apartment in TA probably costs more than the equivalent of $500,000USD. Coffeeshops and fancy boutiques are everywhere. Shoes for 1,000 shekels. 1,000 shekels! Shoes? All the same stores as everywhere else too: Steve Madden, Aldo, American Apparel, Kookai, fancy French stores. The french are everywhere here. Did we mention the place is full of French? PC has never seen so many stores with "On parle francais" in the window before. Anyway.

So there was no point in buying anything. First of all, the unique stuff was not so unique anymore. PC even came across a gorgeous pair of earrings that she already owns! This store got them from the same distributor in India that the NY store she had bought her pair at did. Is that a sentence?

Even the food got fancy. Yeah, you can still get falafel, shwarma and pizza. But more common are gelaterias, creperies and fancy coffees. You think a frappucino is good? It's got nothing on this stuff. Even the coffee is fancy. A regular coffee at breakfast is a "caffe afooch" - literally translated "opposite coffee" but basically it's a cappucino. That's the basic stuff.

Like any country, poverty is still a reality. Big Boy claims 1/3 of Israelis live at or below the poverty line. This may be true. But these people couldn't even come close to affording living in Tel Aviv. It's been called the"Israeli Riviera" for a while, but this is the first time it really seems to have earned that title. We'll post a "Riviera" pic when we get back.

It's tough to partake, when one is fromthe poor country. a.k.a. New York. Poker Chick's gotta go get some water now. For 9 NIS a bottle. Papaya juice was even more. Sheesh.

*Ok, yes, she did buy 3 pairs of shoes, a present for a friend, and half a wardrobe for the mini. But you had to expect a minimum, right?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jews, they're just like us

The funny thing about Israel is that everyone looks familiar. Not that it's not a diverse country, it is - you see every skin color and then some and once you get past the weirdness of an asian woman opening her mouth and speaking hebrew it's cool.

But still, take a look at all the white people and they all look like someone you know. Keep looking and after a while you realize it's because where the majority of the white population is Jewish. And if you believe the statistics, one of every six (or four, depending who you read) of these people is related to you or your Aunt Sadie.

For those of you (that would be everyone) used to being a minority population in your country, this concept is a bit mind-boggling when you stop to think about it. A whole country when even the most secular of people refers to their Saturday night parties as those on "motzei Shabbat". It's pretty freakin' awesome.

Now let's talk about the beach. For the geographically challenged, Israel sits on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Here are some fun facts, with some help from Wikipedia. First, you should know that large islands in the Mediterranean include Cyprus, Crete, Euboea, Rhodes, Lesbos, Chios, Kefalonia and Corfu in the eastern Mediterranean; Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and Malta in the central Mediterranean; and Ibiza, Majorca and Minorca in the western Mediterranean.
  1. The Mediterranean climate is generally one of wet, cold winters and hot, dry summers. Crops of the region include olives, grapes, oranges, tangerines, and cork. A souvenir gift for the first person who can tell Poker Chick what a "cork" crop is.
  2. Being nearly landlocked affects the Mediterranean Sea's properties; for instance, tides are very limited as a result of the narrow connection with the Atlantic Ocean.
  3. The Mediterranean is characterized and immediately recognized by its deep blue color. Behold, a picture of the blue sea wherever we can put it near this text. Regrettably, the good ones are still in the camera. Yeah, uh, that's the story.
  4. Evaporation is especially high in its eastern half, causing the water level to decrease and salinity to increase eastward. This makes sense to Poker Chick, as she can tell you it's a salty sea. You can smell it in the air from three blocks aways.
If Poker Chick had more than 2/3 of one (out of three total) battery packs left on her camera, she'd show you the funny splotchy sunburn on her foot. Like a splash of burn. But she can't so you'll have to imagine it.

The funny thing about the beach is that it's almost impossible to find an American these days there anymore. It's all Europeans - a lot of Brits and French, a smattering of Germans, Spanish and others. Americans are not so much loved in this (or any) part of the world, and Poker Chick has never seen it in full force like this.

Now, to answer the first question, why are there no Americans? Because in case you hadn't noticed the dollar is in the toilet, peeps. Fellow ad friends have seen the effects as the tried and true international shoot is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Fashion friends can no longer afford such luxuries as Prada and Louis Vuitton. International friends obviously had this realization before yours truly.

But it's true. Look at everyone else in their Dior sunglasses, and you realize.....we've become poor! And the rest of the world is becoming richer as we obliviously watch clips like "The cutest puppies in America" on "morning news" programs. Know what you get when you turn on the news here? Take a guess, c'mon. That's right! It's......REAL news! Imagine that. Now imagine all the people 'round the world pitying us ignorant Americans as we eat our McDonald's and pet our pooches.

Poker Chick is by no means unpatriotic, but it is......embarrassing. We need to get our act together and wake up and realize the world is much bigger than we are and the days of the American empire are over. Thanks, G.W. Swell job.

Loyal readers should stay tuned for more. Coming up.....tales of Jerusalem and the yuppification of Tel Aviv.

See if you can find what's similar

'Twas around rush hour when Poker Chick took the commuter train to Centraal Station in downtown Amsterdam the other day. For you New Yorkers out there, here are a few pics. It's hard, but see if you can spot the similarities:

Monday, May 26, 2008

A shoutout!

To DinDin, who faithfully read the blog, only to be disappointed. With "great anticipation" he read the last post, waiting to get the credit he was looking forward to......and...alas! Denied.
So your very own shoutout in your very own post. Everyone shall now know that you were the one that tipped me off to the free tour. Now I'm off to buy your friend a beer.....

More pics and words later for the rest of you peeps. We're working on it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What would you do if I sang out of tune....

So now we come to Amsterdam. Land of legal prostitutes and free pot. Oh yeah, and tulips, clogs and cheese. Right. Cheese.
If you look closely, you will see in the white that this building was erected in the year 1345. Turns out this was the year of the great miracle of Amsterdam. We won't go into it, but the miracle involves a con artist and some fireproof bread.

The other day a gentleman asked Poker Chick what the difference was between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Aside from the obvious answer, turns out Rotterdam is totally modern in comparison. Why? Because it was leveled during WWII while Amsterdam remained relatively unscathed. So Rotterdam rebuilt in the 20th century whilst in Amsterdam there are loads of buildings around for almost 1,000 years. In fact, there seems to be some law there where if you fix up a place you have to retain the integrity of the facade. So everything stays looking old. Or "charming" as realtors in the States would say.

Amsterdam was a trip. Tons of tourists, mostly from England and Australia. Couple of Americans, though not many. One thing Poker Chick did that she highly recommends was a free walking tour. It sounds cheesy, but these people make it cool and therefore their clientele is cool as well. They tell you neat facts, like the history behind those funny metal things in random street corners. Turns out, they punish junkies who want to piss in corners by repelling it back and in some evil cases even electrocuting them. That's Dutch initiative for you. Poker Chick sends a shout out to Basilio, for being the most awesomest tour guide. We also send a shout out to our new friend Clare, who is blonde and Australian and swears she's never heard of the show Lost. Surely, you lie! You were J.J. Abrams' secret lover, weren't you? Admit it! Okay. Maybe not. You're still cool.

Now let's talk about food. Highlights of the day: amazing chocolate croissant. Coffee (it's so damn good abroad). Yogurt smoothie. Fries with mayo. We got a beautiful picture of some waffles but we'll have to wait to actually eat some on the way back. Can't eat it all in one day.

The canals are truly beautiful. Poker Chick's never been to Venice, but this is the closest she's come. Seing houses come out of the water is neato.

Most surprising? The sun was strong. Real strong.
Finally, we're back to vanity. PC was most pleased with her choice of frayed all-stars for her traveling feet. They seem to be the hip shoes in several countries, Netherlands included. Or, as the Dutch say it, Neyderlunds.
Stay tuned for more......

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day 1, hour who knows.....

Well technically it's been only 42 hours or so since taking off from New York, which makes this the longest day ever. What has Poker Chick gotten herself into since take off?

Well since Big Boy is not good at sharing his computer, she'll share her notes and write more when he's asleep. But suffice it so say there's lots to share.

Thursday night- take off
Poker Chick is a woman who likes her stuff. She's always needed the security of carrying a big bag at all times, knowing she has her meds, band aids, makeup, new clothes, whatever, ready at her finger tips. It helps her relax. Being a seasoned traveler she also is used to carrying as much on board as possible. It's just safer.

So now we take a girl always used to a big purse, we take away her carry on baggage, and we replace it all with a backpack. That's it. Her jeans, sneakers, a sweater thrown over her tshirt, and a backpack on her back. For the next two days. She didn't even realize how little she had on her until she watched the suitcase go away in terror. Then it hit her at security. She only needed one bin to go through the metal detector. Phone, shoes, sweater, it all fit in one bin. Security had never been so easy in her life.

It was such an unsettling feeling, knowing she was hedging her bets, not carrying the world so as to be prepared for every possible scenario.

Definitely the right way to start an adventure.

Next post, Amsterdam, part 1. Until then, please to enjoy thoughts scribbled into Poker Chick's notebook. All copied without edits.

  • Who is this obnoxious load guy near me?
  • I can't believe Cereality closed before I had time to get some. Of course.
  • I ordered the veggie meal? Really? Uh, oookay then.
  • Seriously, who is this guy! I think he's the boss of these two women speaking next to me. They're speaking Spanish to each other. He's yelling at them in Dutch. Then muttering to himself in German. Who are these people? And how many languages do they speak? And do they not believe in sleep where they come from?
  • Well, did my best. Slept a bit and just downed a bottle of water mixed with EmergenC. Maybe it'll wake my ass up!!! Next, to change. Need to make an attempt to look like a human being and not a walking zombie with unwashed hair, morning breath, and a giant pimple that seems to have sprouted in the last two hours. Great. I wanted to look young, but pimply-faced American teenager was not the look I was going for. Better put the nicer shirt on. Now repeat after me, "it is not 3am it is 9am, it is not 3am, it is not 3am...."
  • OK, what's with the bathrooms in Holland? Are they all unisex or something?
To be continued.....with pictures....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are You Ready For The Ugly American?

Well, it's time for Poker Chick to take her misadventures out of New York and into the open world. Thursday starts the week-long trip to the Netherlands and Israel!!

Poker Chick will post as often as possible, so ye who want updates, stay tuned....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

She bought an itsy bitsy teeny weeny orange polka dot bikini...

We know Poker Chick's unique "sloppy chic" style (name invented by UK) makes her vehemently anti-polka dot.  Still, it was cute.  And after trying tons on, to have just one look halfway decent was an immediate "buy".  Any mother will understand this.  Heck, any woman will understand this.

Poker Chick doesn't really have anything to add.  Really, she just couldn't pass up an opportunity to create a post with the above title.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Life Without Cash

Ever wonder what it would be like to be cashless for a week? Now you can stop wondering, because Poker Chick has conducted this experiment for you! Let's see how this works....

Day One
Go to ATM to get cash to pay babysitter. Card gets rejected as expired. Bank is closed and as it's Friday won't re-open until Monday. Go home and call bank. They will take a week to send a new one in the mail. Boo.

Call husband and force him to leave work two hours earlier than planned, so he can go the ATM. Pay babysitter extra money for staying late to wait for him. Double Boo.

Days Two and Three
This is easy enough! Husband can open his wallet for most things, and Poker Chick has enough in her wallet to cover minimal expenses without worrying. Totally doable!!

Day Four
Cash running low. Opt for $5 sandwich instead of $10 salad, get tea instead of fancy $5 coffee drink. Realize there's not enough cash for dinner and slyly reach for husband's wallet when the delivery guy shows up. Make sure to leave him enough to be fair.

Day Five
Repeat Day Four, only this time husband is left with just $5 in his wallet. Poker Chick is down to $2.

Day Six
Buy breakfast for $1.50 at coffee cart on street. Get free copy of New York Post as a bonus. Nice! Maybe Poker Chick should be doing more of this living on the cheap!

Forage for lunch. Soda and apple in office fridge, someone left out crackers, find leftover bag of potato chips in drawer. Forget about cash problem until late in the day. Walk home and realize in horror not only are you cashless but husband has just left town for three days. Feel like 1950s housewife and beat yourself up for being dependent.

Order sushi for dinner so you can justify enough food to allow credit card usage. Feel less like a 1950s housewife and more like a modern woman bringing in her own income so she can eat sushi if she wants to. Enjoy meal and remind yourself to borrow $20 from a coworker tomorrow.

No, Poker Chick did not "eat a bowl of stupid." But ain't this funny?
Day Seven
Desperation. Forget to ask for money, buy $10 salad with credit card. On the way home, look lovingly at a slice of cheesecake and wonder how you're going to scrounge the $4 for this one. Swallow your pride and ask if you can pay with a credit card. Walk away with cake and eat with guilty pleasure and a disturbed sense of accomplishment.

Check mailbox for ATM card and frown at nothing but catalogs. Eat cereal for dinner as you feel too embarrassed to use a credit card again.

Day Eight
Desperation x3. Convince coworkers to order pizza delivery for lunch as it's "raining and you're all so busy". Smile in satisfaction knowing that other colleague who paid will submit for reimbursement and you still got to eat your pizza. Mentally praise your creativity.

4pm. Freakout as you realize you have to pay the babysitter again and husband's flight home is delayed. Doh!

Go home and dance a happy dance as you see ATM card in the mailbox. Have your day ruined as you open and see it's a debit card which you specifically requested NOT to receive. Talk to bank and learn you will have to wait another week for the real one. Throw out every curse word you know.

In conclusion...
Many people may laugh at this, arguing that tons of people are going cashless these days. Everyone (but Poker Chick) has a debit card. Go ahead and laugh. Then Poker Chick will tell you that when people use debit or credit cards instead of cash they spend, on average, 50% more on their purchases. 50%!!!!! That adds up, peeps.

who's laughing?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Poker Chick 2.0

With the Dell on its last legs, it was time to purchase a new notebook. So we just walked into a store today and bought one. That's right. We're stunned too.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

You Did NOT Just Forget That....

How bad is it when your husband has to remind both you and your brother that today marks the date your mother died? Should you both feel like guilty children or is there some intentional self-preservation memory block going on today? Shouldn't Big Boy have called today then, or did he intentionally block it out too? And is it odd that though they live in two separate continents today happened to be they day they reunited?

Random Musings

She hopes the mini never stops saying "elphawent".

DinDin is in town and it did not take long for the big sister tormenting to begin.

Pilates may have done something to her knee today. Doh.

Something is really f*cked up when you have to wear a winter coat in May.

Is anyone even reading this these days?