Biking 2016 - Shetland - Day 1

- by Fred Schlomka

Day 1 - 8th August
Tel Aviv - Frankfurt - Aberdeen - North Sea
11km. Total biked

Long day. Not much biking. Sunita drove me to the airport. Forgot the water bottles so we backtracked and picked them up at the apartment. Actually I carry one water bottle and one small Stanley thermos on the bike. The thermos works really well, fits in the water bottle rack, and comes in handy either for keeping my morning coffee warm for a few hours of sipping, or keeping water cool. There’s nothing like chilled water when the temperature is soaring as it did during my recent Kingdom of Jordan bike tour.

Lufthansa didn’t seem to mind the bike packed in plastic sheeting. I keep my fingers crossed and hope that the baggage handlers are kind. They are. More or less. After an uneventful flight with a change at Frankfurt, I arrive in Aberdeen.

I come out of customs and enquire of a security person if anyone would mind if I assembled the bike inside the terminal.
 - “Och no mon” said the uniformed security guard. “No-one’ll mind atoh. Jis go ower thir” and he pointed to a quiet corner.  Thus was my welcome to Aberdeen.

I spend over an hour re-aligning the handlebars, attaching the front rack and light, fixing the broken air horn, and repackaging the bags.

The plastic is a bit shredded so I toss it out. I’ll buy more in Lerwick for the return journey. Otherwise everything is more or less intact. I take a test spin around the interior concourse then exit the terminal and head off to Central Aberdeen. Some good bike trails parallel the road, so about half the trip was without vehicles. Downhill most of the way so an easy ride

First stop at Union Square, a modern shopping mall near the port. I visit the o2 mobile phone shop and secure a sim card with 20GB of data. It’s surprisingly cheap as prices keep coming down in Europe. With 20Gigs I have enough for GPS, mobile hot spot for work, and maybe enough leftover to download a movie or two.

I enquire about the best fish and chips in town and am directed to Hass’s Fish & Chips on Holburn Street. With my new sim card the GPS whisks me there in 8 minutes. Yummy food. Although I am 98% vegan I do have a bit of fish a few times a year. Since it’s the quintessential food of Scotland and the UK, it has become a bit of a ritual on each visit here. It’s getting late so I strap on the fish supper to the bike and pedal briskly to the port

I arrive at the ferry terminal in the nick of time and munch on my supper while the cars are loaded first. A few other cyclists show up. Once on board there’s an announcement warning the passengers about the stormy seas and gale force winds that await us out in the North Sea.

The ship’s wifi is lousy so I activate the hot spot on my phone and get some work done while downloading an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’. I watch the tv show later while munching on Sunita’s amazing granola/fruit bars that she packed for me, washed down with a bottle of Scapa Special Flagship Pale Ale - brewed in the Orkney Islands.

The waves increase in size as we move deeper into the abyss. Once past the land shelf, the ship starts to move up and down with the waves and swells that are higher than the bow, maybe 10 metres (30+ feet). The spray reaches the upper deck window where I am sitting. Every so often the ship will slam into a particularly high wave, slicing through while wobbling from side to side. Walking becomes all but impossible for anyone without experienced sea legs.

This is the worst storm I have been in, but I find it enjoyable, like a kid at an amusement park. However many people around me are availing themselves of the conveniently provided barf bags. The colour of people’s faces alternates between white an an odd shade of green.

It’s time to sleep

Travelling with camping gear enables a very comfy bed, consisting of laying out my inflatable mattress on the floor topped off with a sleeping bag. So I lay it out and doze off in the middle of this boisterous storm. I enjoy a good night’s sleep, waking only a couple of times when the bow of the ship sweeps up the side of a particularly large wave and crashes down the other side with a resounding kabooom. I wake up at the ‘kabooom’, then roll over and go back to sleep.

Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. If you are interested in joining Fred on one of his adventures, please contact him through this link.


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- by Yahav Zohar
Jerusalem, an urban planner once told me, is not properly a city but a collection of courtyards. With every turn, with every alley, you come into another world, an entirely different story. In such a fragmented city there seems to be no real cultural mainstream beyond government funded seasonal festivals that bring here culture from the outside, but a lot of local fringe culture is alive and kicking. Art students and community activists group so that some of the most interesting things happen off the radar of tourists and visitors, secret even from most locals. Thus, on the way to a screening at the high profile Jerusalem Film Festival I was diverted by a friends message to a less publicised event.

Just 10 minutes walk from the Cinemateque and festival, In the midst of the upscale hotel district, two minutes walk from the regular meeting point for Green Olive Tours at the YMCA, is an almost forgotten piece of history. Unseen from the main streets, in the shadow of the massive new Waldorf Astoria and “David's Residence” luxury apartment complex, is a secret little neighbourhood/courtyard/hosh of once  stately homes dating from the 1870s and 1880s. Some have been done up, others are run down and abandoned, and one has just been given a surprising burst of new life. 

Nicknamed Ha'Mif'al, “the factory”, this grand old house has become, just for the summer, a hub of artistic and cultural activity. Bayit Rek (lit. “Empty House”), a collective of artists that for several years have been running parties, art projects and cultural events in abandoned buildings all over Jerusalem,  have been given the run of this once stately home, turned factory, than school, and for ten years barred and collecting dust. With the permission of the municipality, the group have turned parts of the building into a makeshift artists workshop, cafe and bar and concert hall.  Suddenly, amid the glitz one comes upon what seems like an artists' squat typical of big European cities. 

The project is open to the public every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11am to 11pm and on Fridays from 11am to 5pm. When I arrived, near sunset, about three dozen people were sitting in small groups on straw mats and pillows in the garden. Tea was brewing over a small fire, music was playing, and at the outdoor bar they were serving home made tacos (with a vegan option). Another small group was gathered in intense conversation in a pretty little earth hobbit-house that was built cooperatively by the guests artists and the neighbours. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming in a way that is rare to find in any busy city center.

But the best part by far was inside the big old house. Mainly, the abandoned building had been cleared out and left almost as is, with it's beautiful high ceilings and windows, but many of the walls had been painted in a way that left fragments of the  the old alongside all sorts of new colorful creation. In the center of the downstairs space a fountain a fountain with a sort of classic looking sculpture broken with fragments of glass matched the looked of carefully studied neglect.

As it happens, the event that night was music, and specifically Arabs and Jews playing and singing together. The little hall was packed and sometimes it seemed that half the crowd were also among the performers which kept changing in a range of groupings and styles from folk through hip hop and electronic. Which is where the evening ended, for me at least, in a good vibe sort of dance party which I missed out on in conversation with some of the organisers. Everything seemed to be done in a volunteer spirit and the concert/party was free of charge

I was struck by their story of tracking down, almost by chance, a member of the family who had owned the grand house and lived in it until 1948. Claire Lorenzo is apparently sharp and very much alive in her mid nineties, and she came from very nearby East Jerusalem for the first time in many years to see the house she grew up in and tell of the family's history there. They couldn't really say how she felt or if she cared with what they had done with the house, and if the idea of Palestinians and Israeli Jews playing and dancing together in the house taken from her family seemed to her in any way better than the house being used as a factory or a school or just being shut off to the world. 


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Biking 2016 - Palestine/Jordan - Day 1

 - by Fred Schlomka -

13th June
Jerusalem — Almog Junction -  En Gedi

I spent the night of the 12th at a friend’s house and awoke at 3am to begin the trip. I drove through almost empty streets and passed through the Mount Scopus Tunnel into the Judean Desert. The ridge opposite was alive with lights as the ever growing tendrils of the Ma’ale Adumin settlement continues to eat into the desert and the lands of the Jahalin Bedouin.

After the obligatory stop at Sea Level, I descend to the Jordan Valley and park the car at the Almog Junction gas station. As I unload the bike and pack the gear I wonder about leaving the car for two weeks in the parking lot. Well, too late to worry now.

I pedal off to the east as a soft glow starts to spread over the tops of the hills opposite, across the Dead Sea. Then south on route 90 with the sea not far away. The bike is like a Christmas tree with blinking lights atop the flagpole and dual front headlights. Together with the billowing white flag I am determined that the night time traffic will see me from a couple of kilometres away. It is a good move. The few cars and trucks are giving me a wide berth.

It’s cool with a light breeze. Great weather for biking. The first part of the day is quite flat. I stop for breakfast near Qumran, the discovery site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sunrise is quietly serene as the golden arc rises over the hills. It gets hotter.

I stop and make breakfast - fruit salad and home-made granola. Yum. I get back on the bike. It’s just 8am and it gets hotter. I pass the checkpoint back into Israel. There’s one huge hill. It’s a big one. Pushing again. Reminds me of Turkey. By the time I roll into En Gedi I am dripping with sweat. But that’s it. Only 9.30am and I’ve done my 50 kilometres.

I settle into a bench at the shaded plaza in front of the En Gedi Oasis/national park. Free spring water. Clean toilets. a convenience store with cold drinks. It doesn’t get much better than this at the end of a hot bike ride. I change clothes in the restrooms and launder my biking clothes which are sodden with sweat.

I recharge my big battery with the solar panel and settle in to a work session on the Laptop. Lots of tourists coming and going. You can tell the bikers. They eye my rig approvingly, and a few venture over to discuss the finer points of cycle-touring. A couple looked shocked at my footwear. For biking I wear the same simple leather slip-on sandals that I use year round at home.

Jos calls. He’s on the way for our planned meeting. Jos and I are business colleagues. He is fluent in sign language and brings groups of deaf people to Israel and other countries. We are collaborating on Ethiopia tours. He’s currently guiding a deaf couple on a Holyland tour from the USA, and we had planned this meeting while his clients are lounging at the nearby spa.  Jos arrives driven by Rami, a Green Olive driver, and we have a productive meeting.

After they leave I head up to the youth hostel to see if I can camp on their grounds. “Absolutely not” I am informed. They seem surprised by the request. The ‘Youth Hostel’ rooms are priced like a 4-star hotel. Weird. Anyway I’d rather camp so I head down to the ‘closed’ En Gedi beach. Once a thriving tourist destination the beach area has been plagued by ‘sink holes’, the sudden subsidence of large areas of ground due to the lowering of the Dead Sea water - a result of the drying up of the Jordan River.

Who would have thought that 200 kilometres away the residents of Haifa get part of their water from the Sea of Galilee, resulting in almost no water entering the Jordan river, which therefor can no longer replenish the Dead Sea, thereby causing the sink holes, which forced the closure of the beach and its camping facilities, and a minor inconvenience to this cyclist. Such is the social ecology of the region.

The beach resort buildings are derelict with electric and water disconnected. Tufts of grass, weeds, and young trees are sprouting from every crack on the parking lot paving, and poking out of the buildings. It would make a good set for one of those end-of-the-world movies.   One other one camper has staked out a spot. I pitch my tent, cook dinner, then head back over to the Oasis to fill up on the free water. The rock hyraxes are out and about since the tourists have gone for the day. These creatures are kind of like fat rats with friendlier faces and no tails.

I work a little more on the laptop, then as the sun declines, I go back to the campsite, crawl exhausted into the tent, set the alarm for 3.30am, and sleep intermittently since a blustery hot wind builds as the night progresses.

Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. If you are interested in joining Fred on one of his adventures, please contact him through this link.


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