Monday, 29 August 2016

Cyprus - Part I

The distance from Cyprus to Israel is 224 miles (360 kilometres), with an approximate travel time from Jerusalem, Israel to Nicosia, Cyprus of 41 minutes. Goodness knows why it has taken us so many years to visit the country when we live so close by! We put it right this summer and just recently returned from a fabulous holiday in Paphos and the delightful village of Pera Orinis, near Nicosia.
I am going to give you a taste of our trip, though believe me, it was very hard to whittle down that 'taste' to a few photos that I feel sum up our holiday! We had a fantastic time exploring cobbled village lanes, walking on beautiful pebbly beaches (my kids will tell you I am not a great fan of sand!), visiting beautiful monasteries and churches, and eating delicious fish in local village tavernas.
We went on an "Akamas" tour where we started the day with a walk into the Avakas Gorge in Cyprus's Akamas Peninsula, then visited Lara Bay and the Turtle Conservation Sanctuary for endangered green and loggerhead turtles. We then drove north, through the Akamas Peninsula National Park and through some beautiful villages, visiting the Baths of Aphrodite and then going for a swim in the clear blue sea.
Another day we stopped to admire the view at Petra tou Romiou, also known as Aphrodite's Rock, a sea stack in Paphos, then strolled through the desert-like landscape of the Tomb of the Kings. The mosaics at Nea Paphos were absolutely beautiful, though I would suggest visiting very early in the morning or late afternoon - it was hot!
For a change of scene we ventured into the Troodos Mountains, the largest mountain range in Cyprus. The mountain village of Omodos, the wine centre of the inland region, enticed us with its colourful, cobblestone square, narrow alleyways and wood crafted verandas overlooking the streets. Lace making and embroidery is a 2,000-year-old Cypriot tradition, so beautifully crafted lace pieces were in every local shop.
Cyprus's countryside, archaeological sites, sporting activities and shimmering blue sea really got to us, yet there was more to see of the divided island...

Monday, 22 August 2016

Ein Afek Nature Reserve

Last month Mister Handmade in Israel and I went up north for a few days whilst the boys were at summer camp. Now, you might have guessed by now that I am not the type to sit and sunbathe for days on end. When we go away I like to see the area we are visiting, and this little holiday was no exception. We visited some lovely places, all of which I will blog about at some point, but this post is about Ein Afek Nature Reserve, also known as Tel Kurdani (from the Arabic word kurdan, which means valuable jewel), a lovely spot next to the town of Kiryat Bialik.
The site of the Ein Afek Nature Reserve is what remains of the biblical town of Aphik, which is mentioned in Joshua 19:30 as belonging to the Tribe of Asher. The Ein Afek Spring is in the reserve (afikim means springs in Hebrew), and the reserve is also the last remnant of the Na'aman Stream swamps. In winter, when the water level rises, the reserve shelters pelicans, cranes, pygmy cormorants, grey herons and many other species of water fowl, and in spring the reserve is carpeted with flowers. Ein Afek also has a myriad of bird life, fish, turtles, terrapins, snakes, lizards, otters, coypu and more. Admittedly it was a little warm hot on the day we visited, but there was still plenty for us to see and enjoy.
One of the highlights of the reserve is the two-storey fortress, top, that dates back to Crusader times. An audiovisual presentation in the building showcases the reserve’s flora, fauna and heritage, and the roof provided us with a magnificent view of the surrounding area and, on the flip side, all the development around. A water-powered flour mill operated on the lower floor of the fortress and the ground flour was shipped to nearby Acre in boats via the Na'aman Stream.
We followed the walking trail from the fortress, passing the Mezuda (Fortress) Pools and a dam built during the Crusader period. Vegetation thriving in the Ein Afek wetlands include gibbous duckweed, blue water-lily and pondweed. Watercress can be spotted at the water's edge, while typical riverbank flora includes tamarisk trees, blackberry hedges, reeds, and bulrushes. Crossing over wooden bridges, we were able to experience nature and her water in its many forms – swamp, springs, pond, flowing stream and leafy meadow.
In 1991, seven water buffalo were relocated from the Hula Nature Reserve to Ein Afek and placed in a pen with electric sensors, to prevent them from wandering into the swamp. We spotted them in the distance sheltering under a tree, above. In the past, before the Na'aman swamps were drained as part of preparation of the land for cultivation and to rid it of malaria, herds of water buffalo brought from Egypt lived in the area. They served as work animals and provided milk for Bedouin families. Today the buffalo's grazing load curbs the growth of trees and maintains open pasture. 
The largest body of water at Ein Afek is "The Great Lake". A beautiful wooden walkway stretches above the lake, below. Along the way we viewed aquatic plants, birds and fish. The walkway then lead us past the Meshushim (Hexagonal) Spring, which got it's name from the shape of the structure built around it during the British Mandate. A permanent resident of the area is the river crab.
Next was the Suphia (Moorhen) Pool, a small constructed pool where many water and brush birds nest, followed by five tiny pools, the Zeitzer Pools, which are separate from the other bodies of water in the reserve. Zeitzer was a pioneer from Hungary who leased land at the edge of the swamp in 1930 and dug fish ponds. He imported carp from Yugoslavia and continued to raise them till his death in 1945. The remains of his ponds can be seen here. They were a beautiful blue colour, quite different to the somewhat murky waters of the reserve.
Finally, the Eshel (Tamarisk) Pool was built during the British Mandate in the 1930's. It channelled water to the pumping station, which can be seen at the end of the trail, and from here the water was diverted to the oil refineries built north of Haifa. This continued till the 1960's.
The walking trail finally lead us to an ancient tel dating back 4,000 years (the Canaanite period). In ancient times people chose to settle on sites higher than their surroundings in order to protect themselves. They also chose places close to water and which had arable land. Tel Afek met all these requirements. A number of archaeological surveys have been carried out on Tel Afek. Human remains, pottery vessels and tombs have been found. From the top of the tel we went back down the path to the swamp, and returned to the reserve offices where we had started.
Ein Afek was declared a nature reserve in 1979 after drilling in the area nearly caused all the springs to dry up. Now pumping is limited and in years with little rainfall water is pumped into the reserve to preserve the unique vegetation of the area. The reserve covers 366 dunams. A supplementary 300 dunams were added in 1994. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A Bikini, Beaches and a Bandanna

May recently turned 18. Her auntie told me that she is a glamorous young lady who loves sunbathing, but is also very studious, oh, and she is addicted to her iPhone too!
I gave her a bright red dress, popped a bikini and some school books on her card, and of course she has her phone ready to hand.
Several family members celebrated their birthdays recently. I made some summery cards to match the season.
Finally, a customer requested a card with a picture of her (Jewish) husband wearing a white turban! She also wanted me to show a selection of different hats around him: a chauffeur's cap, a toque blanche (chef's hat), a shopper's hat (we decided on the brown trilby), a cleaner's hat (yes, I know he probably doesn't actually wear a polka dot bandanna but I thought it would be fun!) and a bin man's hat (we settled on the yellow hard hat). He is wearing a white polo shirt with his company's logo on it and my customer wanted the greeting on the card, Happy Birthday, to be in Hindi!
"Just seen the card now...awesome. Love it!" she wrote to me. I hope that "Gadunga" liked it too.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Yonatan's Album

Yonatan's Mum, a regular customer and a dear friend of mine, told me months ahead of time that she wanted an album for her son's Bar Mitzvah. Yonatan's brother celebrated his Bar Mitzvah back in 2013 and Mum knew that she wanted an album for her second son as well.
Yonatan is mad about Chelsea FC, loves playing tennis, adores sushi, and Mum thought I should include his phone on the cover too.  She also liked the tefillin (phylacteries) that I had given his brother, and wanted me to show Yontan wearing them as well (Jewish men start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah).
I have shown spiky-haired Yonatan wearing his much loved Chelsea shirt, with a tennis racket in one hand and his phone in the other. He is wearing tefillin on his head, on his left arm, and the straps are hanging down over his shirt. (Tefillin consist of two leather boxes with parchment with biblical passages inside. The first one goes on your arm, the second on your head. A right-handed person, which Yonatan is, places tefillin on the left arm). There is a plate of sushi and some chopsticks to his side.
The green background box matched the colour scheme of the Bar Mitzvah celebration. (I'm going to give another well-deserved shout-out for the wonderfully talented Ruti of Designed by Ruti who created some incredible blue and green balloon centrepieces which the album matched perfectly!). Yonatan's name, the word Bar Mitzvah and the date of the Bar Mitzvah celebration are written in Hebrew. 
The album opens the Hebrew way, from right to left, and I added a black and white striped tallit (the large sheet-like fringed prayer shawl worn during the morning prayers) to each page and on the cover too. (Traditionally some boys begin wearing the tallit for the daily prayers from the age of Bar Mitzvah, whilst others wait till after marriage.)
On the first page of Yonatan's album I added some teeny-tiny sushi (yum!), then the next featured Chelsea's club badge and a football. Another page showed his earphones (just like on the card I made him when he turned 11) and the PlayStation console and controller (which also previously featured on his older brother's 14th birthday card!). Yonatan is a great illustrator and enjoys drawing cartoons like The Simpsons. For the next page I added some paper and pens and, with a little work on Photoshop, made sure that a Simpsons sketch was displayed on the top of the pile. Lastly, Yonatan loves dogs - all dogs - so the final embellished page in his album showed some cute little mutts. I had great fun creating them!
My lovely friend was delighted with the album and Yonatan loved it too. "I absolutely LOVE this! It's perfect!" she wrote to me. "You are so talented!"
It's not always the case, but I am so lucky to often have such enthusiastic customers!
And I made a card for Yonatan too, to match the colour scheme of his Bar Mitzvah celebration.
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